DSNY launches BetterBin design competition

DSNY launches BetterBin design competition

The competition challenges participants to redesign the New York City litter basket.


The New York City Department of Sanitation (DSNY) and Van Alen Institute, New York City, in collaboration with the Industrial Designers Society of America(IDSA), Herndon, Virginia, and the American Institute of Architects New York, have announced the launch of BetterBin, a design competition to reimagine the New York City litter basket.

New York City is home to more than 23,000 litter baskets that offer pedestrians a way to dispose of refuse and recycling. The most widespread design, the green wire-mesh basket, has remained largely unchanged since the 1930s. The wire basket needs a redesign to better address the current and future waste needs of the city. The BetterBin competition seeks entries to design a new litter basket that can improve the quality of life for New Yorkers and the sanitation workers who service them while keeping New York City healthy, safe and clean.

Multidisciplinary teams of designers, artists, architects, engineers, landscape architects, planners, urban designers, manufacturers and others are encouraged to submit proposals by Sept. 20. Each of three design finalists will receive funding to produce prototype baskets for testing on city streets. Interested parties can download the request for proposals at www.betterbin.nyc.

“While residents and visitors may be familiar with the iconic green city litter basket, we are tasked with keeping the city healthy, safe and clean every day, and the current baskets do pose some challenges to us,” Kathryn Garcia, sanitation commissioner, says. “We are excited to announce this competition and look forward to seeing what’s possible.”

BetterBin is the first in Product Placed, a new series of design competitions where Van Alen Institute helps cities use design to create or improve civic products that affect urban life.

The BetterBin Competition will be held in two stages. A judging panel will review all submissions and select up to three finalists to move on to the second stage. Each finalist will receive $40,000, which includes an award and funding to produce prototype baskets for testing. After the testing period, the judging panel will select a first-place winner. The winner will be eligible to contract for further design development to ensure the ability to mass produce the basket at a reasonable cost and refine technical issues through an agreement with the city.

The competition partners will host a BetterBin Open House on July 26 for potential competition entrants to interact with vintage litter baskets, learn more about the competition and the existing litter basket designs and the talk to sanitation workers about what it is like to service litter baskets on the streets of New York City. For more information about this event and to register, visit betterbin.eventbrite.com.

The competition is open to the public and submissions are welcome from international competitors, multidisciplinary teams and students. The winner is scheduled to be announced in July 2019.

Judges for the competition include: Keri Butler, deputy director of the Public Design Commission; Vijay Chakravarthy, northeast district chapter representative of the IDSA; Kathryn Garcia; Jeffrey Kapec, executive vice president of the Tanaka Kapec Design Group, Norwalk, Connecticut; David van der Leer, executive director at the Van Alen Institute; Cara McCarty, curatorial director for the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, New York City; Victoria Milne, faculty at Parson’s New School, New York City; Harry Nespoli, president of the Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association, New York City; and Heron Preston, designer.

Design considerations for new litter baskets include: 

  • Quality of life and aesthetics: The ideal design should improve the quality of life, street cleanliness and the appearance of street corners. Designs should have proper drainage and minimize access for rodents and other vermin.
  • Proper use: Public space litter and recycling baskets are intended for pedestrians to dispose of light refuse and recycling. Designs should discourage improper use of litter baskets.
  • Accessibility: A litter basket should be convenient, accessible and easily identifiable as a place to deposit waste. Designs should be compliant with the Americans with Disability Act (ADA), sanitary and should not require pedestrians to touch the basket to use it.
  • Sustainability and stewardship: A new litter basket design using recycled materials, innovative fabrication methods and technology applied in a clever, imaginative and original way are welcome. The basket should be able to be used as recycling bins and must accommodate sustainability messaging.
  • Servicing: Litter baskets are emptied frequently. The process includes dragging and lifting them. Empty baskets must weigh no more than 32 pounds. The new baskets should be ergonomically designed and be able to be serviced quickly and effectively without injuring workers.
  • Cost, durability and ease of maintenance: Baskets experience significant wear and tear. The new basket must be durable enough to withstand daily use, frequent servicing, variation in waste materials and all temperatures, weather and wind conditions.
  • Security: Litter baskets are removed for special events or security operations. A stackable design enables easy storage and transport. Designs must be conscious of and minimize risks associated with misuse of public space infrastructure.

More details and submission guidelines on the BetterBin competition may be found at www.betterbin.nyc.