Art

With SF garbage cans priced in 5 figures, let’s assess them like fine art

San Francisco Public Works is testing out three custom-designed and three off-the-shelf models in its quest for a perfect trash can. Photo: Ethan Swope / The Chronicle

San Francisco, let’s talk some trash.

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As The Chronicle has reported, the city is piloting a program for the selection of new public garbage bins to replace the current, overflowing models some blame for the refuse on neighborhood sidewalks. Six models are being considered – three custom designs and three prefabricated — and residents are encouraged to offer feedback about the candidates via QR codes on the bins.

For 90 days, 26 of the bins will be placed around the city. There’s an online map showing where the containers are located for anyone who wants to see the options in person. The pilot program has been 3½ years in the making, at a cost (so far) of $550,000.

Since the city has asked for feedback, what kind of a citizen would I be if I didn’t offer my thoughts on the three custom models? I have reviewed fashion collections, films, television shows, live performances and visual art; why not offer a critical assessment of these bins? As a San Franciscan, I’m going to have to live with the winner, so better to speak now or forever hold my peace. Just kidding, like that will happen.

At a cost of $11,000 to $20,900 per prototype, these bins are priced like fine art, so it seems reasonable to assess them from an aesthetic and artistic perspective. Public art like murals and sculptures do much for informing the character of a city or a neighborhood. When shown the same kind of thought, civic fixtures — even something as banal as a trash can — could do the same.

I sought out each of the three custom models following the online map. Using the pinpoints to locate each one reminded me of the apps I’ve used covering fashion weeks or at art fairs. It felt fitting given the task at hand.

A rendering that shows one of the three contenders for San Francisco’s new trash can, Salt & Pepper, on Powell Street. Photo: San Francisco Public Works

Salt & Pepper

Maybe it was just the excitement of reviewing my first trash can, but when I turned the corner at Divisadero and Geary to see the model named Salt & Pepper, I let out a teeny gasp. The name was apt: the container does look like a Georg Jensen salt and pepper shaker, objects that I would put on my table at that. The vertical steel slats pinch the form of the can near the top, denoting where bottles and cans go above and trash below. Although the slats are supposed to deter graffiti, the can was already tagged.

The shape is elegant, and with the pinch near the top of the receptacle being slightly reminiscent of the human waist, surprisingly playful.

The Soft Square model, one of the three contenders for San Francisco’s new trash can, at Civic Center. Photo: San Francisco Public Works

Soft Square

After several unsuccessful attempts to locate a Soft Square model, I finally found one at Sutter and Fillmore. With its rounded top and perforated stainless steel sides, it does feel like it’s trying to be a less obtrusive presence, but that doesn’t make up for the lumming boxiness of the shape. I also couldn’t help but notice it was already streaked with trash stains.

Soft Square is by far the most conventional of the three custom models; perhaps it would be better suited for a more conventional city.

Slim Silhouette, seen in the Embarcadero, is one of the contenders for San Francisco’s new trash can. Photo: San Francisco Public Works

Slim Silhouette

At Locust and California streets, I found Slim Silhouette in front of the Laurel Village shopping center. A little taller and much leaner than Salt & Pepper, it also shares that design’s vertical steel slats and has circular holes at the top for garbage on the left and recycling on the right. There’s almost an android quality to the bin’s receptacle holes, which are placed like winking eyes. It would have been right at home in Pixar’s future-set robot flick “WALL-E.”

Of the three designs, this model felt the most like a piece of architecture. It’s definitely bold, but there’s a lightness to the form that helps it become part of its surroundings, not a focal point.

For their aesthetic contributions, I’m personally torn between the elegance of Salt & Pepper and the bold lightness of Slim Silhouette. What the rest of the city will appreciate remains to be seen, but citizens should take the time to evaluate them in person. You don’t get to talk trash unless you’ve seen it, so now is your chance.



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