Artemy Lebedev

§ 88. Trashman’s dream

May 20, 2002

On the posters, Brigitte was dressed in nothing but a towel and a smile.
“My mom says she’s trashy”, Carol said.
“If she’s trash, I’d love to be a trashman”, S-J said, and wiggled his eyebrows like Groucho.

S. King. Hearts in Atlantis

A very interesting topic to think about is the development and creation of city objects. The city’s looks are comprised not by buildings alone, but also by petty things a city is recognized by: phone booths, mailboxes, lampposts, benches, trash cans.

This time we’ll talk about trash cans. This section is an outcome of a two-year research into the issue by the author. We will leave out urns and ballot boxes not to dilute our focus.

The function of a trash can is the timely collection of litter that is carelessly thrown in its direction. When there’s no trash can in sight, an average pedestrian would normally use any receptacle or cavity to get rid of litter—the base of a lamppost, the vertical part of a school chair frame, a recess between glasses of the first floor window panes etc.

Types of trash cans
There are two basic types: indoor and outdoor trash cans. The construction of an outdoor trash can is determined by the place where it is projected to be installed: under an overhang or in the open.

Indoor trash can

Outdoor trash can to be installed under overhang

Street trash can

Ways of installing trash cans
Trash cans may be placed on the floor (to stand on the bottom or on a prop/pillar) or fastened to other objects (to the wall, for instance).

Floor trash can
St. Petersburg

Trash can riveted to a signpost
The Hague

Pin-up trash can

Trash can design
From the user’s standpoint, the method of use is determined by a role task—putting (throwing, casting, slipping, jamming) garbage into a can. From the standpoint of maintenance staff, trash cans may be movable and immovable, swivel and static, with and without a liner, with and without a bucket with a lid/top or open.

Immovable concrete trash can

Movable trash can

Swivel trash can

Receptacle with a bucket

Receptacle with a liner

Receptacle with a lid

Receptacle with a bucket and top

Receptacle with a liner and a lid

Liner carrier

Ways of protection from unauthorized use
Garbage disposal is a business. Disposal of big amounts of garbage is a big business. City garbage receptacles only exist because keeping them is more reasonable than sweeping tons of butts, cans, wrappings, paper cups, bottles and other waste from the streets. However, a trash can is not designed to accept say a leather jacket—for that you have a garbage container in the backyard (from where a bum has the chance to pick it) and for which you are paying to a utilities agency.

The major problem with maintaining a trash can is that you have to get the garbage out of it on a regular basis. As the trash can doesn’t have a timetable to schedule its filling progress, you need to check and empty it when necessary. The trash can is maintained by a janitor or a trashman walking from one receptacle to another and doing his job by either turning over the trash can and raking the garbage out into a special cart, or pulling a liner out of it.

An immovable receptacle should be built so as to allow the janitor to give it a wash in the event the liner gets ripped up (or the bucket has been snaffled). It’s not much of a trouble with movable or swivel design. But as far as a huge immovable trash can is concerned, there must be a way to get inside it. That is why all jumbo trash cans have a special side door that’s opened with a key (which also gives you access to the bag inside).

Receptacle with a door—see hinges in the foreground

Receptacle with a lid and a door

Receptacle with a door

Keeping the place clean
Trash cans without liners are cheaper in terms of consumables, but are likelier to get dingy. Receptacles with liners should be built so as to minimize the probability that the liner gets ruptured. The receptacle’s externals and design features depend on that: the ones without a liner look crummy and smeary, while the ones with a bag inside are more pleasing to the eye. Sometimes a bucket that goes with the receptacle may substitute a liner.

Thanks to a liner, the square of the grimy and stinky surface dwindles. To preserve the valuable qualities of a bag, receptacles are always equipped with some sort of fixing: the liner is either gripped by a push-up lid or wrapped around the can’s (bucket’s) brim.

A trash can that never got scrubbed

A trash can that gets scrubbed when the liner fails

A trash can that’s never to be scrubbed (never mind the adjacent sidewalk)

The origin of species
An image below shows the development of three (to some extent) independent elements—a bucket, a trash can and a liner. Each of the axes tends to the center—the ideal trash can—evolving into intermediate subvarieties in the pursuit of perfection.

An ideal trash can is closed, has a bucket inside, and a liner in the bucket; it has a side door for cleaning and a place for advertising. An ideal trash also has an ideal ashtray, but that’s the subject of further research.

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