Nicole Howell’s ‘Toss With Care’ Trash Can Addresses Homelessness & Sustainability in NYC

The Pratt Institute for Design is known for its phenomenal furniture design students as well as architects, artists, graphic designers, but for trash can designers? Yes, that’s right, recent graduate Nicole Howell turned her ‘Toss With Care’ trash can design thesis project into a full on mission to better understand homelessness in New York City, and along the way, she became fascinated with trash divers. Her project, Toss with Care, which developed out of her initial experiment the (trash)poline, was design to not only act as a traditional trash receptacle, but also a recycling can and a place for edible leftovers for street dwellers in search of food.

Nicole’s project may sound a bit off-the-wall, but then again, isn’t the idea of wasting food crazy, too? Her original experiment the (trash)poline literally acted like a trampoline: you’d throw trash in a can and it’d bounce right back out at you. Some people didn’t find the humor in Nicole’s design, but hopefully it made them think twice about what they were regarding as trash, especially if it were a recyclable or, more importantly, edible food. From this initial design, Nicole expanded her creativity and developed the trifecta of trash cans and placed them around the city, then documented how people responded to the cans.

What makes Nicole’s design so great is its simplicity. Using the same green trash cans that line the corners of NYC’s streets, Toss with Care’s circular shape is cut into three wedges, and placed atop the existing can. The only true difference between Toss with Care and a regular can is the number of bags required because each sections needs its own. For those of you questioning the increase use of plastic bags do not fret, recyclables can always reuse the same bag or be replaced by a removable container, reducing plastic consumption.

It’s a remarkable system that can help the homeless population in New York, while also helping the environment through decreased wasted in landfills. Better still is that Toss with Care helps to return dignity to a neglected, yet substantial and noticeable, portion of NYC’s population.

A lot of cities already have a similar system to Nicole’s design, however it usually involves duplex-style trash can with a trash and a recycling bins on either side. New York City has yet to check into this awesome waste management system, however recently the city has been increasing locations with three separate cans next to each other — one for plastics and cans, one for paper products, and the other for waste.

Nicole plans to continue working on and modifying the lightweight design and hopes to develop larger Toss with Care cans in order to meet the ever growing demand for food in the city. She is also currently in the process of contracting with various NYC departments in order to expand her thesis project into a city-wide program that would explore issues of sustainability and what it means to be homeless in America’s greatest city.

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