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

by , 06/17/11

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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.

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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.

+ Toss with Care

Images © Nicole Howell



  1. Jared Sessum February 9, 2015 at 11:19 am
    Feeding the homeless out of garbage cans is not a good solution. But retrofitting these bins to divide our resoruces such as recyclable metal/glass/plastic/paper and food scraps/soiled paper for composting is a brilliant idea. The initial intent is wrong, but the design is great!
  2. george434 March 29, 2014 at 9:24 am
    This is actually really sick. Just the idea that homeless people should be happy to eat garbage is callous and cruel, and making it look pretty does nothing to change that. These are people, not animals to look at and be "fascinated" by.
  3. Courtney Fromberg August 24, 2013 at 1:18 am
    I think that there\\\'s a more dignified way to design the platform of tossing food. Treat your brothers as you would expect to be treated. Let\\\'s go back to the drawing board. But it\\\'s a good start.
  4. Rose SPierre July 13, 2013 at 8:01 am
    Good-hearted gesture, but dangerous as well. It may not be the best way to preserve left over food for homeless people by conveniently separating food out of the garbage. Food born illness will develop in there quickly especially in warm weather and without refrigeration.
  5. Robert Stanley February 13, 2013 at 9:21 am
    I'd like to see Nicole eat out of one of her bins for a week & get back & tell us if she still thinks it's such a good idea. Sounds great in theory but so many humans are lazy & mean-minded that this will become a putrid mess.
  6. Henrietta Steel September 6, 2011 at 10:33 am
    What an awesome way to help people. People are digging through reg trash so at least someone is trying to help keep the trash divided and cleaner. Ideas like this start small then work the kinks out and get better. Great idea!
  7. GailNCalifornia June 18, 2011 at 3:06 pm
    To lazyreader's comment: you're right. There's nothing to stop people from abusing this arrangement,'s a step and an opportunity for people to do the right thing. We can never police every little thing. We can only present opportunities and hope for the best. Kudos to whoever came up with this. I hope we in LA follow suit.
  8. seamusdubh June 17, 2011 at 4:57 pm
    While good in concept and altruistic, it does nothing to actually solve the homeless problem. Giving them a slightly less contaminated source of refuse to dig through only perpetuates the problem. The real answer is not homeless sheik designs whitewashing the issue. But actual help and assistance in reintegrating the fallen back into society.
  9. lazyreader June 17, 2011 at 4:29 pm
    I like it. It's a good intention. But what's to stop vandals from simply dumping pet excrement or trash in the food bin. No one is gonna notice people from throwing things away; it's not a priority to address surveillance over city garbage cans.