A trash-y Public Works project that has been in the works for three years — since the disgraced tenure of former department head Mohammed Nuru — is pushing forward, but the SF Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a lower budget for some pricey trash can prototypes than was originally requested.
As we reported last week, the Board was voting on a budget allocation for 15 prototypes, along with other pre-existing receptacle options, that will be tested on the streets of SF beginning this fall. The vendor, Oakland-based industrial design firm ICI (Institute for Creative Integration), was estimating a range of prices for manufacturing the custom-designed prototypes, between $12,000 and $20,000 apiece — and the price tag led to pushback from Supervisor Matt Haney and much trolling in the local media.
The Board voted to approve a $400,000 budget for this part of the project, down from $537,000, which will include five prototypes each of three different designs that have been through a lengthy selection process. As the Chronicle reports, once a design is selected, the trash cans are expected to cost $2,000 to $3,000 apiece to be mass-produced. Haney introduced the amendment to require that the per-prototype cost be brought down.
In a text message to the Chronicle, Haney said, "I still think it is ridiculous that this will end up being a 4 year process. A huge amount of time they’ve wasted rather than just replacing the trash cans that are out there with better ones. And it’s hard for me to believe that San Francisco can custom design a better cheaper trash can than literally any other city or any company in the world."
As we've heard from Public Works, there are several issues that led to the custom-design project that began three years ago. One has something to do with the narrowness of some of the city's sidewalks. Another issue has something to do with needing interior containers on wheels for trash and recyclables that can be unlocked, rolled out, and loaded onto automatic emptying mechanisms on Recology's trucks. The current, dark green, round receptacles that have been on many streets since 1993 lack these bins, and manually emptying them apparently presents a problem.
Public Works also wants the cans to be equipped with sensors that tell Recology workers when a can needs to be emptied.
Public Works spokesperson Beth Rubenstein tells the Chronicle, "There’s no off-the-shelf model that solves our problems."
The Supervisors have long hated the green bins, and officials complain that they are easily broken and too easily scavenged from, which leads to more trash on the street.
As we noted last week, there was some potentially corrupt aspect to the ongoing use of the green bins, with Nuru publicly denouncing the Bigbelly trash cans that are now all over the Tenderloin, and a vendor for the old bins was connected to a family member of disgraced former city contractor Walter Wong.
Nuru had approved a $5.2 million contract with that vendor.
ICI created a group of prototype cans, all with lockable doors and chutes for bottles and cans that can't easily be reached into, and the list of finalists was whittled down to three with help from the SF Arts Commission.
As for the price tag for the new prototypes, $12,000 may sound high, but a former vice president at Apple who founded the Design Lab at UC San Diego, Don Norman, tells the Chronicle that it "sounds reasonable" given that each prototype will likely need to be handmade.
A $2,000 per-can cost once they are mass produced also seems reasonable, with the City of Oakland currently paying around that for its street trash cans.
Testing of the cans, along with some models from other cities for comparison, is set to begin in November.