Why Are Kitchen Trash Cans So Expensive — And Are They Worth It?

published Mar 8, 2018
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A while ago, I confessed that I spent a small fortune on a trash can — and had no regrets about it. Commenters were split on whether this was a smart investment or an extravagance, and no wonder: A quick Amazon search reveals you can just as easily spend under $20 or over $200 on a trash can, with plenty of options in between. So why would you shell out the big bucks? Good question!

I probably spend more time than the average person thinking about trash cans. To be fair, it’s part of my job! But I do not spend as much time thinking about trash cans as Dave Wolbert, head of business development and R&D for SimpleHuman, the company behind my own pricey trash can habit. It’s almost all of his job! So I got him on the phone to discuss. (Note: I reached out to several other brands of similarly priced trash cans, but they didn’t respond by press time.)

Here’s why these premium trash cans are so darn expensive.

1. They’re built to last.

Every SimpleHuman step can is tested to last through 150,000 steps, the equivalent of 20 steps a day for 20 years. Their warranty guarantees for 10 years, but anecdotally, they’ve found they last much longer. And as Wolbert put it: “When’s the last time you bought something that lasted you 10 years?” It’s a fair point! I think I have a few pieces of furniture that have lasted that long, but that’s about it. Many people cycle through shoes, clothes, and phones in two years or less, but think nothing of spending hundreds of dollars on these things. When they price their trash cans, they reflect good value for the utility and durability.

2. The materials are better.

Speaking of durability, it’s both the design and components that go into the trash can that make it last so long. When the exterior of the can is made of stainless steel instead of a cheaper material, like plastic, it won’t absorb odors, stain, or degrade as quickly. Same on the inside: If manufacturers use a metal rod instead of a wire or plastic tube to connect the pedal to the lid, it will cost more, but be less likely to fail in the long run. “We test all our materials to make sure they’re of the highest quality,” says Wolbert.

3. They’re innovative.

“We have dozens of patents throughout the product lineup that offer a host of unseen benefits,” says Wolbert. Among them: Slow-close dampers (so you have time to get all the trash in there, really robust pedals (that you can activate from any side), and a nano-steel coating that makes the stainless fingerprint-proof, so it doesn’t look dirty. Then they went a step further and made the fingerprint coating antimicrobial, too. “Come flu season, would you prefer a trash can that won’t pass on influenza, e. Coli, and staph?” asks Wolbert. For the motion sensor cans, they went through tons of testing to reduce “false triggering” (read: accidentally opening the can when you walk by) to come up with a sensor that only opens when you lean in towards the trash can from a certain distance away. Basically anything you see as a three-word phrase on the packaging involves months of research and testing.

4. They’re solving problems you didn’t know you had.

SimpleHuman considers itself on the realm of Apple, innovation-wise, trying to anticipate your needs and offer new technologies that “reduce friction” in your everyday garbage disposal process. “Taking out the trash is not fun, so we want to make it easier,” says Wolbert. Did you realize having a bin within the can lost you 20 percent of your fillable space? They got rid of the bin. Was your bag getting suctioned into the can when you tried to pull it out? They drilled holes just the right size, in just the right spot, to eliminate it. Do you spend time searching for trash bags? The new cans have pockets in the back to hold the liners. Do you want the lid to stay open while you peel potatoes? They adjusted their sensor technology to figure that out. Do you want the can to open so you can toss something in from across the room? Their new voice-activated can will do that.

I will say this: When you have a bad trash can (one where the lid hits against the wall or the pedal sticks or something), it is a daily annoyance. When you have a good one, you never think about your trash at all. So if paying a little more means that, for the next 10-plus years, I won’t even have to think about garbage disposal? Well, that seems like a pretty good value proposition to me.

What about you? Are you willing to pay more for a kitchen trash can if it means getting one that’s super high quality?