Bins and Billboards

TO ALLEVIATE WHAT Councilman Joseph Golombek Jr. calls “probably the worst [financial straits]” that Buffalo, N.Y., has ever faced in its 175-year history, city officials are considering turning to an unlikely source of help — solid waste containers.

Earlier this year, the city began selling advertising space on parking meters to help fund city coffers. Now, city officials are pushing to do the same with residential trash and recycling containers.

According to Golombek, a private company places the displays that hold the ads on parking meters and is responsible for recruiting advertisers. Officials expect the project could add hundreds of thousands of dollars to the city budget over the next several years. So the city has held informal discussions with a handful of private vendors who would oversee ad recruitment for trash receptacles. Buffalo could hire one of the vendors by fall.

Given the shape of the containers, the ads would be fairly small, roughly the size of bumper stickers, Golombek says. Larger bins would be able to feature multiple ads. “These would not be advertisements that would be designed to have people driving down the street look at them,” he says. “[They] would be there primarily for the owner of the property to look at and then, secondarily, for maybe a handful of passersby.”

Resident reaction to the parking-meter project and the potential for ads on waste bins has been mixed. “To be honest with you, if we weren't in a crisis, this wouldn't be something that I would necessarily be looking at,” Golombek says. “But during difficult times, you have to come up with new ideas of how to solve your financial crisis.”

Meanwhile, roughly 100 miles to the north, Toronto is preparing to launch a three-month pilot project to evaluate the performance and public reaction to public waste/recycling containers with bus-shelter-sized ad space.

About five years ago, Toronto contracted a firm to place, at the firm's expense, about 4,000 ad-bedecked receptacles that hold both garbage and recyclables in public areas. Recently, locally based Urban Equipment of Canada (Eucan) purchased the firm and assumed the contract. Eucan pays Toronto a flat monthly fee for each bin and cuts the city a slice of the ad revenue in exchange for emptying the containers. The contract netted the city about $800,000 last year, says Geoff Rathbone, director of solid waste planning for Toronto.

Based on this success, Toronto has requested additional bins like the ones already installed. However, Eucan proposed adding up to 2,500 much larger containers to the streets of Toronto and moving the existing ones to parks and schools. The proposed bins stand roughly 7.5 feet tall, with illuminated ad space the same size often seen on bus shelters. Unlike the existing bins, the new containers feature ad space that meets advertising industry standards, which could make them more appealing to businesses and therefore generate more revenue for the city, Rathbone says. Eucan also proposed installing another 2,500 new receptacles that are about 5 feet in height and have no ad space.

However, the shelter-sized bins have sparked some negative comments from both council members and the public. “Why don't we just get the garbage can we need rather than buying a billboard and having the side benefit of a can?” one councillor told The Toronto Star. In an editorial, the newspaper said, “There's no sense in having clean streets if they can't be seen over trash cans, of all things.”

Faced with the opposition, the city council has decided to proceed cautiously by approving a three-month pilot program in which up to 132 of the 7.5-foot bins and 44 of the 5-foot bins will be placed throughout the city. The project should begin by early next year.

Buffalo and Toronto are not alone in their advertisement-seeking undertakings. Last year, New York City decided to allow ads to be placed on about 300 trash bins in the Times Square area.