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Competition: BetterBin, New York

The Van Alen Institute and The New York City Department of Sanitation (DSNY) have announced an international contest to reimagine New York City’s iconic litter basket (Deadline: 20 September)

Open to interdisciplinary industrial design teams, the two-stage competition seeks proposals for a new freestanding, low-cost and stackable waste bin to replace the city’s current standard steel mesh litter basket.

The call for concepts, supported by the Industrial Designers Society of America and the American Institute of Architects New York, will select an original and high-quality replacement for the existing design which can be found throughout the major metropolis. Three shortlisted teams will receive $40,000 each to produce 20 prototypes for a public trial.

New York City’s iconic litter basket

New York City’s iconic litter basket

Source: Image by DSNY

New York City’s iconic litter basket

According to the brief: ‘The BetterBin competition asks: How can we create a practical and efficient litter basket for New York City that keeps the streets clean, makes the best use of our limited streetscape, and better serves both sanitation workers and the public at large?

‘The ideal design should aim to improve the quality of life, street cleanliness, and appearance of street corners across the city. The ideal design is simple and enduring, equally at home on any street in any borough, with the ability to stay relevant in a modern city alongside other sidewalk innovations for the next 100 years.’

The New York City Department of Sanitation is thought to be one of the largest refuse departments in the world, handling 12,000 tons of waste every day and employing more than 7,200 workers. The city currently hosts more than 23,250 public street bins based on a wire mesh design which has changed little since the 1930s but is considered no longer fit for use.

Submissions for the new bin should encourage pedestrians to dispose of light litter while discouraging household waste and business waste from being deposited. Designs should incorporate drainage and minimise rodent access while also harnessing recycled materials and innovative fabrication methods.

New York City’s iconic litter basket being serviced by a DSNY employee

New York City’s iconic litter basket being serviced by a DSNY employee

Source: Image by Van Alen Institute

New York City’s iconic litter basket being serviced by a DSNY employee

The winning design must weigh less than 14.5kg when empty, be suitable for up to 2,500 services, be easily stackable and storable, and be capable of being manufactured in batches of 20,000 at a cost of $175 per unit.

Competition judges include DSNY commissioner Kathryn Garcia; Van Alen Institute executive director David van der Leer; Cara McCarty, director of curatorial at Cooper Hewitt, the Smithsonian Design Museum; and the designer Heron Preston.

First round applications will be evaluated 50 per cent on response to the brief, 25 per cent on manufacturing feasibility, and 25 per cent on originality. Three shortlisted teams will receive $40,000 to participate in the second stage during which prototypes will be manufactured for a public trial.

The second round will be judged 50 per cent on performance during the trial, 25 per cent on public comments, and 25 per cent on feedback from DSNY employees. An overall winner will be announced in July 2019.

How to apply


The deadline for applications is 20 September

Contact details


Visit the competition website for more information

Q&A with Kathryn Garcia

The DSNY commissioner discusses her ambitions for the competition

Kathryn Garcia

Kathryn Garcia

Kathryn Garcia

Why are your holding a competition to rethink standard waste bins across New York?

Currently, New York City is home to more than 23,000 litter baskets, in a number of different styles. They offer pedestrians an easy way to dispose of refuse and recycling while they go about their activities. And while the most numerous of the bunch, the green, wire-mesh basket, is affordable and easy to service, it has remained largely unchanged since the 1930s. We believe that a redesign may help us better address the current and future waste needs of the City, so we launched BetterBin to help us reimagine our iconic green wire-mesh litter basket. The competition is open to all, as you just never know where the next great idea will come from.

What is your vision for the new waste bins?

When designing the next litter basket, we’d like entrants to consider quality of life and aesthetics; proper use; accessibility; sustainability and stewardship; basket service; cost, durability, and ease of maintenance, as well as security. To that end, there are also a few design requirements regarding the litter basket’s size and dimensions; its placement and stability; drainage, durability and design; usability and ergonomics; branding and messaging; management; as well as public use. The full list of design requirements and our evaluation criteria are available online.

What sort of architects and designers are you hoping will apply?

The competition is open to all, including designers, artists, architects, engineers, landscape architects, planners, urban designers, manufacturers, and others. We welcome entries from international competitors, multidisciplinary teams, and students, too. We are open to designs and idea from up-and-comers, as well as more established designers.

All entries will be reviewed by our judging panel, and up to three finalists will be selected to move on to the second stage. Each second-stage finalist will receive $40,000, which includes an award and funding to produce prototype baskets for testing on city streets. After the testing period, the judges will select a first-place winner. Further, the winner will be eligible to contract for further design development to ensure the ability to mass-produce the basket at a reasonable cost, as well as refine technical issues through an agreement with the City. The winner will also be able to put an identifying mark, such as their logo, on the first 10,000 litter baskets that are produced and put into service in the city.

Which other design opportunities are on the horizon and how will the architects/designers be procured?

We are pleased that BetterBin is the first of Van Alen Institute’s Product Placed design competition series, that looks to help cities use design to create or improve civic products affecting urban life. They are working to bring together experts across disciplines to inspire fresh thinking, help people visualise a different future, and enable lasting change.

Are there any other recent waste bin projects you have been impressed by?

The City is open to giving a new look at infrastructure, this includes newly designed bike racks and even the LinkNYC kiosks that provide free Wi-Fi, phone calls, device charging and more. We believe our BetterBin Competition falls in line with these types of projects, and we look forward to seeing reimagined litter baskets.