What takes years and costs $20,000? A San Francisco trash can

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — What takes four years to make and costs more than $20,000? A garbage can in San Francisco.

This expensive, boxy trash can is one of six trash cans hitting the streets of San Francisco this summer in the city’s long-running saga in search of the perfect trash can. Overflowing trash cans are a common sight in the Northern California city, along with heaps of used clothes, shoes, furniture and other items strewn across sometimes impassable sidewalks.

City officials have hired a Bay Area industrial company to custom design the expensive trash can along with two other prototypes that cost taxpayers $19,000 and $11,000 each. This summer, residents have the chance to evaluate them and three out-of-the-box options added to the pilot program after officials came under fire.

Last month, the city rolled out 15 custom-made trash cans and 11 ready-made trash cans — each costing between $630 and $2,800 — with QR codes affixed to them asking residents to complete a survey. City officials said they intend to pay no more than $3,000 per box.

San Francisco began its search for the perfect trash can in 2018 when authorities decided it was time to replace the more than 3,000 public trash cans that had stood on the streets for nearly 20 years.

Officials say current bins have too large a hole that allows for easy digging. Bins also have hinges that require constant repair and locks that are easy to break. Some people also knock them over, cover them with graffiti or set them on fire.

The city is so serious about its efforts that it has created interactive maps so residents can follow and test the various designs, including Soft Square, the most expensive prototype at $20,900. The square stainless steel receptacle has openings for waste and for recycling cans and bottles and includes a foot pedal. The Slim Silhouette, at $18,800 per prototype, features stainless steel bars that give would-be graffiti artists less room to tag.

If one of the custom-designed bins is chosen, the cost to mass-produce it will be $2,000 to $3,000 per piece, said Beth Rubenstein, spokeswoman for the San Francisco Department of Public Works.

“We live in a beautiful city and we want (the trash can) to be functional and profitable, but it has to be beautiful,” she said.

But the beauty of the shiny new trash cans hasn’t protected them from vandalism and disrespect. Three weeks after being unveiled, several have already been tagged with orange and white graffiti. Others are already showing the dripping stains of inconsiderate coffee drinkers or attracted dumping, with people leaving dilapidated bathroom cabinets and plastic bags full of empty wine bottles beside them.

Garbage on the streets of the city of San Francisco has been a problem for decades. In 2007, then-Mayor Gavin Newsom eliminated about 1,500 of the city’s 4,500 trash cans because he said they didn’t help keep streets clean and became magnets. for more waste. Authorities could not say how many containers are currently on the sidewalk, but the city plans to replace at least 3,000.

“A trash can is one of the most basic functions of city governance and if the city can’t do something as simple as that, how can it solve the larger issues of homelessness, security and poverty? asked Matt Haney, a former supervisor who lives in the Tenderloin neighborhood and now represents the area in the California Assembly.

New trash cans will be the latest addition to the city’s arsenal against its filthy streets. In 2014, San Francisco launched its “Pit Stop” program in the Tenderloin neighborhood, the epicenter of drug trafficking and homelessness in the city, implementing portable public restrooms. In 2018, the city created a six-person “poop patrol” team amid demand to wash sidewalks.

Haney said as supervisor, he reluctantly agreed last year to endorse the pilot program despite high prices to avoid delays.

“I think most people, myself included, would just say replace the fucking cans with cans that we know work in other cities, do it,” he said.

Haney said “the whole trash can saga has this stench of corruption,” referring to disgraced former Public Works Department director Mohammed Nuru, who pleaded guilty in January to federal wire fraud charges. Nuru awarded the San Francisco garbage can maintenance contract to a company owned by a relative of a developer who pleaded guilty to conspiracy and is cooperating with federal authorities in the case against Nuru.

In addition to corruption, the city has long been the butt of jokes about how long it takes to complete public works projects of all kinds.

A bus rapid transit system along Van Ness Avenue, one of the city’s main thoroughfares, finally opened this year after 27 years of construction. A new subway line linking Chinatown to other parts of the city, construction of which began in 2010, is four years behind schedule. In 2017, the city completed the Transbay Transit Center just a year late, but the $2 billion terminal abruptly closed six weeks later after crews discovered two cracked steel beams.

Ultimately, the trash the city receives will depend on feedback from sanitation workers and investigations completed by the end of September, Rubenstein said. The new cans aren’t expected on the streets until late 2023.

Diane Torkelson, who often picks up trash in her Inner Richmond neighborhood with other volunteers, recently walked 5 miles with a dozen other civic-minded San Franciscans to examine three of the cans.

Both prototypes were already complete when the group arrived to check them out, she said.

“If the bin is full, it’s useless, even if it’s been well designed,” she said.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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