Privately funded 'smart' trash cans headed to Hayes Valley this month

Later this month, the Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association (HVNA) will launch a two-year pilot project to bring six high-tech Bigbelly trash cans to Hayes Valley, in an effort to reduce trash overflow on the busy merchant corridor around Patricia's Green.

“We expect them to be installed [in] mid-March,” HVNA president emeritus Gail Bough said during a community meeting last week. "They are being shipped from Texas as we speak."

As we previously reported, the privately funded "smart waste" cans have been popping up in neighborhoods across the city, including North Beach, the Castro, Central Market, SoMa and the Tenderloin. 

Unlike standard city receptacles, the solar-powered Big Belly cans are equipped with built-in compacting technology, allowing them to hold five times as much waste and alert garbage collectors remotely when they need to be emptied. They're also secured, to prevent people from going through the garbage and redistributing it on the streets. 

Last May, the Castro was one of the first neighborhoods to get Bigbelly cans. | Photo: Steven Bracco/Hoodline

But SF Public Works won't be financing a wider rollout of the Bigbelly cans, arguing that the cost to rent them — $3,000 per can per year — is just too expensive. (The cans can only be leased, not purchased outright.) The agency has also argued that the cans are potential magnets for graffiti and vandalism, and their solar panels are prone to malfunction. 

Instead, as the Chronicle reported this week, Public Works is working to re-equip its existing cans with a small sensor device from a Danish company, which also detects when the can is 80 percent full and alerts Recology for a pickup.

The sensor isn't perfect; it occasionally gives false positives for bulky items like pizza boxes and umbrellas. But at a comparatively affordable $294 per can, Public Works is committing to a 1,000-can citywide rollout of the sensors, with installation set to begin next month. 

Baugh said that Hayes Valley will receive four of the city-owned "smart cans" to complement the six Bigbelly cans it's renting. 

Bigbelly cans in Berkeley. | Photo: Teresa Hammerl/Hoodline

Preliminary plans call for five of the Bigbelly cans to be stationed at the parklet next to Absinthe on Hayes Street; the north side of Patricia's Green; the southwest corner of Hayes and Octavia streets; the northeast corner of Hayes and Laguna streets; and the southeast corner of Linden and Octavia streets.

"Final locations are being confirmed now," said Baugh, who's still discussing plans for the sixth can with stakeholders. 

One of the unique aspects of the Big Belly cans is that neighborhoods can put their own visual stamp on them. (North Beach's new set, for example, bears images of Italian flags.)

Sketches of Earl Speas' artwork on a can. | Image: Via SF Arts Commission

In Hayes Valley, the cans are set to display reproductions of original art from local artists, including birds by Earl Speas, confetti by Jennifer Harris, a cityscape by Rhonel Roberts, a cat by Sarah Young, and a TBD piece by Tana Quincy. The artists will receive a small stipend for their work, and retain the rights to the pieces.

The sixth can will feature art from John Muir Elementary School students, according to documents filed with the San Francisco Arts Commission. The project was presented during the commission meeting on Monday.

To select the featured artists, HVNA worked with SF Beautiful executive director Darcy Brown, who's also responsible for placing art on the city's Muni buses every year.

The goal was to "make art available to everyone," Brown told us, and create a "delightful encounter" while walking down city streets. 

Sketches of Sarah Young's piece. | Image: Via HVNA

"Why not have the same type of artwork [shown on the Muni buses] on the Bigbellies?" HVNA's Baugh added, noting that her organization hopes to feature more artists on the Bigbellies in the future, "as we learn how our neighbors respond to our project."

The cans will also bear the names of local merchants and groups who've contributed to the project, including Absinthe Group, Fig and Thistle, Souvla, Salt and Straw and the neighborhood group Friends of Linden Alley.

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