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Blog posts tagged with 'pros and cons of different trash can materials'

Pros and Cons of Different Trash Can Materials: Plastic vs. Metal vs. Composite
Pros and Cons of Different Trash Can Materials: Plastic vs. Metal vs. Composite

When choosing trash cans for public spaces like parks, campuses, and city streets, the material is a key consideration that impacts durability, aesthetics, sustainability, and cost. The three most common categories of materials used in commercial trash receptacles are plastic, metal, and composite. Each has inherent advantages and drawbacks as you explore commercial trash can types.


By understanding the performance differences between plastic, metal, and composite trash cans across factors like weather resistance, durability, appearance, and eco-friendliness, informed decisions can be made to select the optimal receptacle material for your needs. This guide examines how these three materials compare across the most important evaluation criteria.


Plastic Trash Cans


The ubiquity of plastic stems from it being an inexpensive, versatile, and lightweight material for manufacturing commercial plastic garbage cans. Polyethylene is the type of plastic most prevalently used. It offers several beneficial properties:



High-density polyethylene plastics withstand cracking and fracturing better than brittle materials like concrete when subject to extreme cycles of solar heat, freezing temps, and blunt force impacts. Plastic waste bins resist dents, chips, and scratches that rapidly degrade metal over time.



Injection-molded polyethylene trash bins carry substantially lower price tags than steel or composite options. Their mass-automated production is highly economized at scale. Despite budget-friendly initial pricing, plastics still endure years of intensive use.


Design Flexibility

Molded plastic can be manufactured in a vast diversity of shapes, colors, surface textures, and lid styles tailored to the aesthetic preferences of different environments. Their smooth, seamless surfaces readily simplify cleaning off graffiti on plastic waste containers. Specialized models can be used as multi-purpose trash cans for recycling and sustainability.


Weather Resistance

Plastics retain high tensile strength across extreme weather conditions from sub-zero winter cold to intense summer heat and UV radiation. Their tightly bonded molecular structure is not innately vulnerable to corrosion and rust when used for outdoor trash bins year-round.


Lightweight Mobility


Weighing around 20-35 lbs., lightweight plastics enable easy lifting, rolling, and repositioning of plastic mobile garbage bins by staff. Multi-directional wheels and casters can be mounted on bases to smoothly roll wheeled waste bins wherever needed on demand.


Despite the beneficial properties above, plastic waste containers also come with several disadvantages to consider, including:


Limited Load Capacity

Plastic trash bin liners pose more restrictive load limitations compared to metal and composite garbage cans. Average plastic waste containers practically handle 25-50 gallon loads. Their lightweight molecular structure lacks robust reinforcement for very dense, heavy waste volumes.


Recyclability Issues

While technically recyclable, heavily used public space trash receptacles often end up in landfills due to material contamination from intense waste exposure. Most thermoplastics also cannot biodegrade naturally at end-of-life, which has significant environmental impacts.


Aesthetic Impacts

After years of cumulative solar radiation and pollution exposure, plastic discolors with yellowish hues that degrade appearance. Scratches and surface curving also erode the smooth exteriors of plastic garbage cans over time. Removing graffiti and stubborn stains poses ongoing challenges.


Odor Persistence

Once malodors from garbage juices penetrate the porous molecular matrix of plastic waste containers, they stubbornly linger and resist removal even after rigorous cleaning. This worsens as small cracks and staining accumulate on the surface.


In summary, plastic waste bins deliver satisfactory durability and affordable pricing at smaller waste volumes under 50 gallons but raise concerns about plastic waste generation, longevity, and aesthetics when used long-term.


Metal Trash Cans


Steel and aluminum rank among the most widely used metals manufacturing commercial indoor trash cans, outdoor waste bins, and recycling bins. Compared to standard plastics, metals compete at similar price points but with vastly superior structural integrity across factors like dent resistance, load capacity, and durability against vandalism. Benefits of metal trash cans include:


Unparalleled Strength

Metal construction withstands intense weight loads from dense, heavy waste without fracture or buckling risks. Heavy gauge aluminum and stainless steel trash cans resist dents, bending, and exterior deformation under years of forceful impacts from hands-on usage and attempted vandalism.


Customization Potential

Metal waste bins allow broad aesthetic personalization ranging from ornate artistic detailing to durable color finishes resistant to chipping and scratching. Engraved branding can also be etched directly into the sides of metal waste containers. The texture and sheen can also be customized.



As one of the most ubiquitously recycled materials, metals like steel and aluminum reliably re-enter usage streams after end-of-life with marginal degradation in strength or integrity. Responsible metal recycling at scale drastically reduces landfill waste yearly.


Downsides to weigh when considering metal trash cans encompass:


Rust and Corrosion

Outdoor elements like coastal humidity, freezing winter climates, chemical deicers, and daily solar heat and moisture exposure gradually degrade metals over several years resulting in rust accumulation, paint cracking, and surface corrosion. Scheduling frequent repainting of metal garbage cans can partially mitigate cosmetic damage.


Higher Upfront Investment

Durable steel indoor trash cans and outdoor trash bins can run 2-4x the upfront price of mass-produced plastic waste containers. But their extended 10-20 year average lifespan often justifies the steeper investment for high-traffic public spaces seeing intensive daily use year-round.


Weight Challenges

Steel trash cans commonly tip scales around 100-300 lbs empty depending on dimensions and durable gauge thickness. Significant heft makes relocating metal garbage cans much more labor-intensive compared to lightweight plastics.


All factors weighed equally, metal garbage cans deliver superb durability and diverse customization advantages at a higher but often warranted price point for public settings prone to heavy usage and abuse. Their environmental recycling value propositions are also increasingly coveted. Careful placement and maintenance of metal waste containers can help temper cosmetic rusting.


Composite Trash Cans


As 21st-century hybrid water bin materials, composites merge the most beneficial properties of both plastics and metals into single outdoor trash cans. However, the broad “composite” designation encompasses a vast range of proprietary plastic/metal material blends formulated by different manufacturers. Making universal performance generalizations lacks precision. But notable composite commonalities include:


Unparalleled Impact Strength

Internal galvanized steel or aluminum reinforcing frames provide extreme tensile strength and shape resilience against fracturing. External plastic layers then absorb dents and deformation from intense blunt force hands-on impacts. This prevents exterior aesthetic declines.



Waterproof plastic exterior shells fully shield internal metal bins from rust corrosion issues after years of outdoor exposure to elements. This also eliminates exterior paint degradation and peeling to maintain visible curb appeal.


Textured Finishing

Multi-layer composite construction allows subtle yet stylish texturing, embossing, and molded decorative detailing on external plastic shells, all while simplifying graffiti removal.


Eco-Friendly Materials

Most leading composite cans contain high percentages of recyclable polyethylene and steel content at end-of-life. Responsibly disassembling and separating material layers recovers a sizable volume of recyclable plastic debris and metal.


Key downsides surrounding composite trash receptacles center on:


Premium Pricing

The intricate manufacturing and multi-material construction of composites results in retail prices averaging 1.5-2x higher than conventional stainless steel trash cans, which deters more budget-conscious buyers. Their upfront cost premiums often limit adoption.


Limited Style Options

Although textural and molded embellishment is possible, ornate artistic detailing generally doesn’t integrate seamlessly into composite fabrication processes. Achievable style options ultimately still lean minimalist.


Ongoing Weight Challenges

Durably constructed composite trash bins often weigh nearly as much as solid steel, averaging around 100-200+ lbs. Their substantive heft amplifies manual labor demands surrounding relocating or moving waste bins as needed.


In summary, contemporary composite trash bins deliver enhanced functionality by merging the most coveted durability and weatherproofing properties of metals and plastics into a single outdoor receptacle. However, the intricate multi-material construction inherently raises manufacturing costs.


Key Buying Considerations


When deciding between plastic, metal, and composite trash bin materials, the most crucial evaluation criteria span:


Anticipated Years of Use

The desired lifespan of durable service under regional weather patterns and user traffic intensities directly determines each material’s value relative to its investment cost. Durable steel and composite lifespans reaching 10-20 years often offset their bigger initial price tag long-term.


Waste Volume Capacities

Dimensional size specs and volume requirements influence ideal materials for stability and load-bearing strength. Composite and stainless steel trash cans structurally support much denser, heavier waste loads above 50 gallons. Basic plastic waste containers serve smaller 25-50 gallon capacity settings more affordably. This impacts cost efficiencies.


Style Importance

Plastic types offer immense style variety from shapes to sheens to textures to colors to molded designs. Metals allow a range of durable color finishes plus engraving. Composites enable subtle texturing and tactile shaping. Prioritizing visual aesthetics helps match needs to benefits accordingly.


Placement Location

Comparing regional climate patterns and weather conditions to material vulnerabilities provides key insights. For example, metal bins will degrade faster along oceanside locations subject to salty sea air. Accounting for rain, winter freezes, summer heat, and UV exposure is crucial.


Mobility Necessities

Heavier stainless steel trash cans approaching 200+ lbs. while empty magnify manual lifting and relocation demands. Smooth-rolling lightweight plastic waste bins simplify mobility. Determining required mobility aligns materials to functional needs.


Sustainability Targets

Public spaces like parks, campuses, and downtown districts increasingly prioritize embedding sustainability. Widely recyclable composite and metal trash bins better align with eco-values than standard plastic products destined for landfills.


Carefully evaluating criteria like these against use case realities, traffic volumes and longevity goals balances tradeoffs to identify ideal material pairings.


Getting Trash Receptacle Materials Right the First Time


Investing proper initial due diligence into selecting supremely durable and functional outdoor trash cans pays invaluable dividends over each receptacle’s years of use by:


  • Extending the maximum feasible lifespan before replacement or refurbishment becomes necessary, saving thousands over the long term
  • Resisting aesthetic degradation related to scratching, paint peeling, warping, and structural corrosion that cheapens curb appeal  
  • Harmonizing durable materials and finishes with an organization’s broader visual branding 
  • Meeting constituency environmental sustainability standards and public commitments


Thoughtfully factoring long-term maintenance workload, relocation demands, scaling capacity needs, and use case realities through future years prevents misaligned materials that degrade ahead of schedule. This proactivity removes unexpected budget impacts.


Evaluating reputable manufacturers and suppliers capable of advising around material considerations also injects quality assurance while allowing organizations to lead by example promoting environmental awareness.


About Furniture Leisure


Furniture Leisure has led the commercial outdoor furniture industry since 2003. For over 20 years, we have supplied thousands of customers nationwide with durable, quality furnishings built to withstand intensive public use.


We offer a huge selection of commercial-grade products like picnic tables, trash cans, grills, benches, bike racks, trash receptacles, bleachers, and more. Our outdoor amenities include hotels, parks, apartments, campgrounds, offices, and many other public spaces across the country.


At Furniture Leisure, our experienced team works closely with clients to recommend customized furnishing packages tailored to your space and needs. We deliver beautiful, functional outdoor projects within budget.


Contact us today to browse top commercial trash can options. Our experts guarantee outstanding service and complete satisfaction.


Frequently Asked Questions


What Is More Durable: Metal Or Plastic Trash Cans?

Metal waste containers are near-universally regarded as the outright most durable and longest-lasting public space option under decades of intensive solar radiation, frigid winters, blunt force impacts, and overloaded waste volumes. Durable steel exteriors resist dents, cracks, chips, and other aesthetic damage exponentially more effectively than plastic or composite alternatives as years accrue. But modern engineered plastics still retain respectable tensile strength across weather fluctuations.


What Material Works Best For Outdoor Trash Cans?

Outdoor public spaces subject waste bins to the harshest abuse from cumulative weathering, intense UV radiation, abrasive cleaning chemicals, overloaded waste mounding, and periodic vandalism. While no material indefinitely avoids wear, heavy-gauge metals like galvanized steel and aluminum most reliably withstand decades of round-the-clock outdoor exposure to elements before refinishing or replacement enters consideration.


What Are The Pros And Cons Of Composite Trash Cans?

Composite waste bins amalgamate beneficial properties from both plastics and metals into hybrid receptacles. Key pros include formidable dent resistance, inherent rustproofing, subtle branding textures, and partial recyclability. Downsides involve premium pricing, limited style options bound by molds, and cumbersome weight rivaling solid steel. So contemporarily, composites represent an intentional balance of enhanced functionality, eco-consciousness, and visual curb appeal blended at a higher cost.


Do Trash Can Materials Matter For Sustainability?

Receptacle materials contribute enormously toward environmental performance. Prolifically recyclable metals like steel, and aluminum and their alloys are considered “infinitely recyclable,” repeatedly returning to industrial manufacturing usage cycles without degrading in quality. Many standard and recycled plastics still overwhelm landfills for decades or centuries while resisting natural biodegrading. Responsibly engineered composites and increased adoption of plant-based bioplastics boost recycling potential.


What Factors Most Impact Trash Can Pricing?

Trash can pricing closely correlates to manufacturing complexity, customization, and absolute material expenses. Design intricacy heightens pricing as well — stamped and welded steel remains more affordable than dense, molded composites. Multi-material composites, engraved metals, and ornate detailing raise costs further. And larger landfill-destined receptacles still lean cheaper as capacity scaling meets linear pricing. But aesthetics and durability come at a cost.

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