Architectural Digest:

Reinventing NYC: Smart wins opportunity to test modern bin design on city streets


The NYC Department of Sanitation, Van Alen Institute, and the Industrial Designers Society of America / American Institute of Architects New York today announced the three finalists in their BetterBin competition. The competition offered designers an opportunity to reimagine New York City’s iconic green wire litter basket. After reviewing hundreds of applications, design teams from Group ProjectIONDESIGN GmbH Berlin, and Smart Design were awarded the opportunity to have their designs brought to reality.

Smart Design will work closely with the competition coordinators to produce 12 full-size prototypes that will be tested in New York City neighborhoods in summer 2019.

New York City is home to more than 23,000 litter baskets that offer pedestrians a convenient way to dispose of refuse and recycling on the go. The most widespread design—the green, wire-mesh basket—dates to the 1930s. While iconic to the streets of New York, the wire basket is in need of reinvention to address the current and future waste needs of the City. The BetterBin competition offered designers from around the world a chance to envision a new litter basket with a sustainable, environmentally conscious, and ergonomic design that could improve the quality of life for New Yorkers and the service experience for Sanitation Workers, both now and into the future.

“For the redesign of a nearly 90-year-old fixture of the New York cityscape, this project is a reminder of how important it is to revisit even the most enduring designs against evolving user needs,” said Jessica Lax, Director of Strategic Initiatives at Van Alen Institute. “We look forward to the field tests this spring and hearing from the public and sanitation workers on the best fit for our ever-changing city.”


As we began our exploration of how to design a better bin for NYC, we focused on the needs of the various people that interact with these bins every day, ranging from sanitation workers to pedestrians. Setting out to improve their experiences, we created a solution that is not only more ergonomic, but also aesthetically aligned with the details that define New York City.

James Krause
Associate Design Director 

The Smart Design team saw the competition as an amazing opportunity to continue our creative impact on the city of New York. “On any given day, millions of New Yorkers interact with the trash bins found on our streets – from sanitation workers to residents to tourists; it’s a constant part of our everyday lives. The opportunity to improve not only the aesthetics but also how they are used and serviced was an exciting challenge that we were eager to take on,” shared Dan Grossman, one of the design leads on the initiative.

Judges felt that the three finalists stood out for their ability to effectively balance a very difficult set of design criteria. “They applied a diverse range of approaches to ergonomics, aesthetics and manufacturing methods. Of course, the proof is in the pudding, so we’re very excited to move onto the prototyping stage,” said Peter Schon, Chair, IDSA NYC.


“The finalists of the Better Bin competition have proposed innovative, functional and attractive designs that have taken something as mundane as a sidewalk litter bin and turned it into an element of urban design that enhances NYC’s streetscape,” said Benjamin Prosky, Executive Director AIA New York Chapter. “At a time when the city is increasing its recycling and composting efforts, and has set a goal to drastically reduce waste, it is important to draw attention to how and where we dispose of our waste.”

Each finalist will receive $40,000, which includes an award and funding to produce full-scale prototype baskets for testing out on New York City streets. Prototype testing will take place in summer 2019 and will be accompanied by a public opinion survey. After the testing period, the judging panel will select a first-place winner based on prototype performance, public response, and feedback from the Department’s Sanitation Workers. The winner will be eligible to contract with the City for further design development to ensure the ability to mass-produce the basket at a reasonable cost, as well as refine technical issues.

More information may be found at the BetterBin competition website.

Check out press coverage of the finalists:

Architectural Digest New York City Trash Cans Are About to Receive a Makeover

Curbed New York See how New York’s ubiquitous trash cans may be redesigned

Fast Company These 3 trash can designs are competing to take over the streets of NYC

Gothamist Here are the Three Finalists For NYC’s Trash Can of the Future

NY Mag The Approval Matrix

The Smart Design team behind this solution included James Krause, Dan Grossman, Edward Laganis, Meegan Daigler, and Albert Kwak.

Dec 2018