Here's a look at San Francisco's long and expensive trash project

Saturday, June 1, 2024
Here's a look at SF's long and expensive trash project
Here's a look at San Francisco's long and expensive trash project and how it is addressing litter on the streets.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- San Francisco is considered among the most beautiful cities in America. But, sometimes, the beauty hides the beast that is city's bureaucracy.

For a major city, San Francisco has a fairly good number of trash cans.

But we have a problem. Trash tends to find its way onto city streets, tarnishing San Francisco's image even further.

"Like right here, they clean today and two minutes later somebody will trash it," said a local merchant along the Van Ness corridor.

It's been found that the more people litter, the more it becomes a habit. They're desensitized.

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"Why can't we just have a nice can out in San Francisco, a nice wire basket like they have in other cities? We tried that in our pilot program, and it didn't work," said Rachel Gordon, spokesperson for the San Francisco Department of Public Works.

The city then realized it needed some kind of "human resistant" trash can without comprising aesthetics. But this is San Francisco, so it has to be "different," right?

The city settled on a sleek new design.

That was two years ago. Here's part of the reason for the delay. Rather than pick any design, Public Works decided to go the democratic route, asking residents to select a favorite from a few prototypes. Those "special" trash cans became yet another city pilot program, costing taxpayers $550,000.

"It's a lot of money," Gordon said. "The garbage cans, once they are in full mass production aren't going to cost that much. We're hoping they'll costs about $3,000," she said.

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The model that would cost $3,000 is called "Slim Silhouette."

There's one along the Embarcadero, across from the the Ferry Building.

The "sexy" new cans are supposed to be graffiti resistant and hard to tamper with.

But we discovered the trash had graffiti and someone had damaged it.

"It looks cute, pretty, that's it. We want some space ship to come back and get it," said a local resident.

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Public Works says there will be some design changes and improvements made, like being able to fit a used pizza box -- right now, the opening isn't large enough. They also want to make sure that people can't get into the recycling portion, so that any kind of rummaging doesn't happen.

We asked what was wrong with the old green garbage cans the city has had for years?

"The problem with the old ones is we get a lot of problems with people being able to go into the cans, rummaging through and pulling the garbage out. We want to be able to have it so that people can't pull off the doors and smash the locks as easily as they do now and, finally, we want to have something that is is little bit aesthetically pleasing," Gordon said

Mind you, Public Works has yet to find a company that will mass produce them, so at the earliest the cans will start to roll out by the summer of 2025. The city wants to purchase 3,000 trash cans. Do the math: that's $9 million.

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To clarify, ratepayer funding -- collected by Recology previously -- has already been set aside by Public Works to cover the cost of the cans.

"I expressed these concerns years ago. I said that we just need an off-the-shelf product. They want to have something special. Regardless of costs, we still don't have the cans," said Board President Aaron Peskin, who is running against the incumbent mayor and has been critical of the costs and delays.

Right now, Public Works has a more immediate problem. Like how to quickly replace the 15 Bigbelly smart trash cans, like the one removed overnight from the North Beach neighborhood after the local nonprofit North Beach Citizens terminated its contract with the company that provided them.

"Bigbelly has fallen down on the job. They're not servicing the cans well, the community well. They're not taking care of them, not maintaining them," Peskin said.

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A dark mark left on the pavement is proof they were once here.

Bigbelly did not return our calls for comment.

The Office of Economic and Workforce Development expressed its disappointment with Bigbelly, stating that such action "would require a lot of coordination on the city side."

For now, it appears there will be no cans for the upcoming North Beach Festival. Attendees could carry their trash home but, of course, there is always the street.

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