In 1999, Americans produced 229.9 million tons of garbage, and sent 63.9 million tons of glass, plastic and other materials to be recycled, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In addition, in 2000, Americans smoked 430 billion cigarettes and left behind almost as many butts, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

At the same time, housekeeping decision makers have been looking for more aesthetically pleasing receptacles to handle this large load of waste.

Sure, housekeeping managers could go to the discount store and pick up a bunch of inexpensive trash cans, but vendors of waste receptacles say appearance and value are becoming more important than price.

“People are more cognizant of the décor, and they don’t want a $2 store can,” says Richard Weiss, president of United Receptacle Inc. in Pottsville, Pa.

“People are going for a sleeker look, and moving away from cheap, open containers,” says Lea Tucker, sales and marketing manager for Smokers’ Outpost, Destin, Fla.

In demand are classic colors and textured surfaces. For instance, polymers that look like concrete and granite but are lighter weight are top sellers, Tucker says.

Value is vital, says Jim Keogh, national sales manager for Ex-Cell Metal Products Inc., Franklin Park, Ill. Facility and housekeeping managers are becoming more attuned to durability, realizing that something that lasts several years can be more economical in the long run than a cheaper, less durable product.

Still, price can be important.

“Everyone’s trying to keep costs in control, so they’re looking for the best price they can get,” Weiss says. That usually means the best price on upscale materials, such as marble, brass and stainless steel.

A variety of styles
Demand for certain types of receptacles vary by facility:

• “A lot of government people are looking at metal, such as cast aluminum,” Tucker says. Security codes often call for metal receptacles, she says.

However, government facility managers still want the metal cans to look good.

“They want something industrial that doesn’t look industrial,” she says.

• Healthcare facilities vary widely, says Weiss.

“There are a lot of steel step-cans for the operating room,” he says. “But for common areas, they’re more decorative, especially in assisted-living facilities. They’re trying to make customers feel more at home.”

• K-12 schools usually look for inexpensive products, and colleges are somewhere in the middle, says Keogh.

But schools also are increasingly purchasing receptacles to fit their custodians’ work practices, says Brown.

“Team cleaning is catching momentum in schools, and they want their receptacles to fit into team cleaning,” explains Barry Brown, inside sales manager for Continental Manufacturing Co., Santa Fe Springs, Calif.

“Schools need containers they can roll as they clean each station,” he explains.

• “Convention centers, airports and hotels look for upscale products,” Keogh says. Lodging facilities, especially, are likely to buy high-end receptacles.

• Class-A office buildings and corporate headquarters, too, seek an upscale look, but other offices’ choices can vary based on tenants and business function, Keogh points out.

Often, local laws can have a great effect on waste-receptacle use. For instance, state and local regulations on smoking have changed the market dramatically for ash/trash cans.

California, for example, has the most stringent regulations; it’s illegal to smoke in most indoor public places, including restaurants and most bars. Most other states, at least, require separate smoking and non-smoking areas, often with separate ventilation. (Source: “State Laws on Smoking,” www.tool

And many private employers, even in states without specific laws, have banished cigarettes completely from their facilities, even banning smoking within a certain distance of their entranceways, to preserve their employees’ health and present a better appearance.

Because of these policies, and lower smoking rates overall, indoor receptacles are almost extinct.

“I don’t see many indoor ash/trash receptacles anymore,” Keogh says. “There still are some ash/trash in hotels, but they may not be operational.”

“There’s been a significant decline in indoor wall-mounted receptacles,” adds Brown.

Indoor smoking areas, bars, restaurants and hotel rooms are likely to use regular, store-bought tabletop ashtrays, rather than special receptacles.

As smokers have not only been forced outside, but also often must walk a certain distance from buildings, outdoor smoking areas — and litter problems — have popped up.

“People now are forced outside, and they congregate in one spot,” Tucker explains.

“Look around flower beds,” says Keogh. “You’ll see cigarette butts, even if there is a smoking urn available.”

To stem that litter, Keogh suggests installing a receptacle that will contain and conceal cigarette waste.

Outdoors, sand-top ash/trash urns often are inadequate, because cigarette waste can become waterlogged and can float in the rain and snow, creating an unsightly mess. Several manufacturers offer receptacles shaped like “genie bottles,” with a tall, narrow neck and a wide base.

“These [receptacles] keep the butts hidden from view, and they keep the weather out,” Tucker explains.

Whereas smoking laws have reshaped the market for sand urns, recycling regulations aren’t having as great an impact.

“About four or five years ago, everything had to be recycled,” says Brown. “But the demand has declined — I think people don’t want to go through the extra trouble.”

In some states, recycling is required, and businesses that don’t separate their trash can face stiff fines. But in other states, or for businesses exempt from the laws, it’s not worth the hassle, Brown explains.

“First, you have to separate the recyclables from the garbage, and then, waste-removal companies will charge an extra fee to collect the recycling,” Brown says.

Along with the desire for recycling bins, demand for recycled products — such as plastic office trash cans containing a certain percentage of post-consumer waste, has waned, says Keogh. Many grant proposals and bids still specify post-consumer waste content, but it’s not as important as it once was, he says.