Atlantic Cities

Public Trash Cans That Aren't Overflowing with Empty Coffee Cups

Public Trash Cans That Aren't Overflowing with Empty Coffee Cups
Classic Copenhagen

Sandra Hoj was getting fed up with her fellow Copenhageners. All along the city's waterfront, paper coffee cups overflowed from trash cans and littered the ground.

"Last week I stopped to take more pictures of the trash at the bridge, and I could feel the anger building up inside," she writes on her blog Classic Copenhagen. '"Look at this mess," I said out loud to no one. Someone replied, "it isn't ours," and I knew that was probably the case, but I got increasingly annoyed all the same. Winding up speaking in a really loud tone. Very counterproductive, don't think I didn't know that at the time.'

So Hoj, a self-employed designer with a background in accessories, took up the problem herself by converting tall, slender cardboard tubes from the post office into receptacles for discarded cups. The idea is simple enough: you can hold more cups in a smaller space when they're stacked neatly inside each other. Hoj's theory was that this would alleviate the cup problem by giving them their own, more compact space, and leaving larger trash cans for other items. 

"I played around with different solutions, and ended up with the one thing that did not patronize people, but gave them the opportunity to play along. Nothing ugly, loud or idiotic. Just a solution. The simpler the better," Hoj says via email.

She mounted her "test tube" cup collectors and put them on two trash cans along the waterfront. Quickly, her fellow Copenhageners caught on.  

Here's one of the trash cans before the cup tubes were installed:

And here's how the other trash can looked on its third day with the tube:

For five days, the tubes (which have the inscription, in Danish, "Empty Cups, minus lids.") were gradually filled with cups and the surrounding area remained relatively clean. On the fifth day, both of her experimental tubes were emptied. On the sixth day, the tubes disappeared. 

Hoj assumed the city removed the tubes, though beside their removal, "city officials have ignored them," she says. "They do not respond to my emails, and I know that several people have pointed the project out to relevant officials, but they tend to stick to their own ways. I am not discouraged, though," she said. "The next batch is brewing."

For now, Hoj is continuing to improve her cup collection design, which has become something of an obsession. "It is pretty much all I can think about," she says. The next version she's working on will include more weather-resistant materials. It will also have a hole up and down the side to see how much the tube has filled up.

The simple design solution, she believes, would make sense in other cities struggling with similar problems. 

"If they are put into production, they should ideally be mounted on cup-plagued locations," Hoj says. "We all have them. I saw a picture on Twitter from Stockholm, taken by author Lena Sundström (@LenaSundstrom), where they apparently have the exact same problem. It would explain the interest from all over the world, in this small project. I think the idea would travel well."

Photos courtesy of Sandra Hoj at Classic Copenhagen

Tyler Falk is a fellow at The Atlantic Cities. All posts »

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