How much should a city trash can really cost?

Walk down just about any major city in the United States and, eventually, you’ll walk past a city-installed garbage can.
Maybe you’ll see a classic black trash receptacle, with the black vertical paneling and open top. Or, maybe, you might see a trash receptacle with a top-side lid that opens and closes (like you might see down Chicago’s Magnificent Mile).
Whatever the case, at some point along the the line, the municipality procured those receptacles at a certain price.

city garbage and recycling cans
chaoss/Adobe Stock

The question is: how much should a garbage can cost?
A recent bit of news out of San Francisco got the MetalMiner team thinking.
Sick of not finding good price indexes for stainless steel? Check out the MetalMiner stainless steel should-cost model — detailed price-per-pound info for grade, form, alloy, gauge, width, cut to length adders, polish and finish adders.

San Francisco proposes paying up to $20K for trash can prototypes

As reported by San Francisco’s local CBS affiliate, the City of San Francisco’s Department of Public Works wants to replace 3,000 city garbage cans.
The catch? The prototype it is considering reportedly costs a whopping $20,000 per can.

If that seems costly to you, you’re not alone. The CBS report quotes local residents and even government personnel who call the price tag “ridiculous” and “insane.”
The Department of Public Works argued the cans will come down in price once they are mass produced, the report notes.

Cost through the lens of the MetalMiner should-cost model

So, the aforementioned got the MetalMiner thinking about what such a trash receptacle “should” cost.
Using some quick benchmarking, a commercial grade garbage can made of stainless steel likely weighs about 90 pounds.

MetalMiner’s current stainless steel 304 price — if you can get the material — is $1.60/lb.
With some quick math, that means the material cost is only $144 ($1.60 x 90 pounds).
“Of course you have to order more than what you’d use, but the material cost is not driving the total cost,” MetalMiner CEO Lisa Reisman notes.
What about fabrication?
“Now fabricating the designs using steel fins, welded to ribs (two of the examples) will be a whole lot costlier (obviously welding is a value-added process that if they can’t do it robotically, would be quite costly),” Reisman adds. “An alternative suggestion would be to source an extruded fin profile (one-step production). Even so, the value-add fabricating can’t be $20,000!”
The other design is a perforated stainless steel — companies like Rigidized Metal Corporation can make it — which is much easier and less costly to buy than a welded fin option but would involve a price premium on a per-pound basis.
Still the stainless steel cost as a percent of the total garbage can cost should be inconsequential. For example, add $2.00/lb for the raw material and it comes to $324 ($3.60/lb x 90 = $324).
Fabrication of the can itself represents the most significant cost.
Both Reisman and Don Hauser, MetalMiner vice president, business solutions, said the $20,000 price tag is outrageous.
“The only real unknown cost here is the sensors, but they are not cutting edge revolutionary sensors so I doubt they are crazy expensive,” Hauser explained. “They would need to be connected to Wi-Fi or cell service to notify an employee — still nothing cutting edge.”
He also said the biggest cost of prototypes should be the fabrication part.
In short, $20,000 for a trash can is, to say the least, a bit pricey.
As always, MetalMiner recommends buyers make sure to split out their value-add costs from their metal costs and to only take increases on the metal itself.

Need to find out if your incumbent suppliers are giving you market prices for your stainless steel purchases? MetalMiner is the only company in the industry with a stainless steel should-cost model. See how it can benefit you in your supplier negotiations.

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