We conducted interviews with city planers, waste managements companies, architects, trash workers, and city inhabitants. The comments from the first four have been incorporated across various sections of the website. In this section we focus on the individual interviews with everyday city dwellers.

Individuals were approached on the city streets during afternoon business hours and asked a short list of questions about city trash and their interactions with public trashcans.


The following were the questions and procedure used to question individuals in situ in public places within the city.  Full disclosure about the project occurred at the outset of each interview.

1) When did you last throw away any trash while you were out in the city?

2) How many times do you think you used a public trash can last week?

3) Do you often use a trash can near here?

Using Flashcard 1 and Flashcard 2 each individual was asked to comment as follows:

4) Is this trash?

5) Who do you think left it there? And why?

6) Would you do anything with it if you found it?

--- Moving on… ---

7) Have you ever been intrigued by something someone has thrown away?

8) Do you think the trash of the city tells any kind of story of its inhabitant’s lives or habits?

9) Does trash ever annoy or disgust you?


The 15 individuals (10 male/ 5 female) covered a broad age range [(1/15) – 20s (3/15) – 30s (5/15) – 40s (3/15) – 50s (1/15) – 60s (2/15)] and were overwhelming (14/15) local residents to the city or daily commuters from surrounding areas. Many of them visited the area of the interview (predominantly Union Square, the plaza at Montgomery BART, and the Embarcadero) daily and often used the same trashcans in that particular place on a regular or daily basis (9/15 confirmed this explicitly). Most of them said they used a public trashcan regularly – from 4 to 40 times a week. The majority used a public trashcan at least once a day. Individuals were also shown flashcard images of purposefully cheap objects in various contexts that sit in a grey area of personal value: old shoes on trash can, a toy left at the edge of a sidewalk, a magazine shoved in a chain linked fence, and a personal picture CD-ROM next to a bus stop bench. They were asked to comment if each item was trash or not and to describe who left the object behind, and why. We encouraged each individual to describe their feelings towards trash and its connection to place and people.

Overall the outcome was evenly split between people who categorized the items trash or not trash. Of the items listed as not trash, the toy and image CD-ROM had the most perceived value (“lost”), then the shoes (“left for others” or “left for homeless”), followed by the magazine that people generally thought of as “litter” left by an inconsiderate person “probably young”. A large majority (11/15) gave explicit descriptions of who lost or left the object there and why. Many of them explained that they would investigate the object further if they found it – from “taking a closer look” to “picking it up and taking it home”.
The comments about trash gave a clear indication of how individuals related to their urban rubbish. A few took the discussion of trash and the city to a political conclusion discussing the issues of environment, consumerism and consumption – reflecting San Francisco’s liberal politics. Many of the people thought of city trash as telling a story as reflected in this quote by one individual:

“The objects that other people throw behind have more value than new objects, you know, they’ve traveled around with different people, they have a story. That’s what gives antiques there value.”


Urban Atmospheres at Intel Research