They're ever present in the background of your Disney vacation photos. They're a vital necessity to a pleasant guest experience. They're the backbone of cleanliness. Yet, they're barely noticed. The humble Disney trash can is just one of the many details found in the parks that can be easily overlooked. This is Disney, so of course even the object that you dump your empty popcorn boxes and ice cream wrappers into oozes theming.
As a former Custodial cast member, I have a slight strange obsession, and a strong appreciation, for all things Disney trash can. I am what you'd call a Disney trash can enthusiast, and so I felt compelled to write an article dedicated to these seemingly mundane yet surprisingly cool bins – aka, the unsung hero of the resort.
The Basic Design and Walt’s Impact
Firstly, Walt realized that if you keep a place tidy, it’s more likely that guests will throw away their rubbish, so he did research into how far someone would walk before they dropped their trash on the ground. He found that 30 feet was the magic number, so wherever you go in a Disney park, a trash can will never be more than 30 feet away from you. When you consider how big Walt Disney World is, that’s a lot of cans – Frontierland alone has over 120!
The basic design of the Disney trash can is a masterpiece in itself and goes all the way back to Walt as well. It's reported that he decided to make the cans have swinging doors to keep the smell inside and so that guests didn't have to see trash by lifting a lid – genius! The rounded edges of the top also gives a much smoother appearance, and the doors which the Custodians open are out of obvious view, making trash as invisible as possible. The recycling cans have a hole instead of a swinging door, perfect for depositing empty bottles and the hole instantly helps guests know what that bin is for.
The Disney trash can has faced a few changes over the years. For instance, many of them used to say "Push" on the flap or had 3D plaques on the main body to signify the area they were placed in. But, the general design and idea behind them has remained the same since Disneyland first opened. Often people think of trash cans as being something riddled with germs and, I'm not saying they're spotless by any means, but they get cleaned by the Custodians very regularly.
World Showcase trash cans still have a 3D plaque
To quell that old rumor: there is not a hole underneath each trash can that all of the trash automatically goes into. Disney is clever, but not that clever. I think this rumor stems from the garbage system in Magic Kingdom called the AVAC. In various backstage locations across the park, there are chutes in which Custodians pour the trash they emptied from the cans. These chutes then lead into a larger pipe system underneath the park in which trash travels at high speed before getting emptied into a larger receptacle. If you ever do a backstage tour, such as The Keys to the Kingdom, you'll get to see this in action.
Themes - It's what's on the outside that counts
This is where we get to the really good stuff. How could something related to garbage be so aesthetically pleasing? Every trash can is designed in a way that blends into its surroundings and doesn't remove the guest from the immersion that is created by the land. If you just dumped a rusty brown bin in the middle of Tomorrowland, I don't think it would transport you to the future in quite the same way.
Notice how these two cans from Fantasyland in Disneyland Paris blend into the scenery. The pink can links to the red and pink tones of the wall and merchandise kiosk behind it, and the blue one connects to the blue railing and roofs of the buildings in the background. It's all about making each element coordinate.
These two cans pictured below perfectly fit into their respective themes. The can on the left can be found in Fantasyland near the castle and the extra turret lid helps give that regal princess feel that matches with the carousel and other attractions in that area.
The can on the right is one of my all time favorite trash can designs, and can be found at the Tower of Terror in Disney's Hollywood Studios. It's so plain and grungy, but it is absolutely perfect for the theme of the location. It even abandons the smooth appearance, and instead has a rough and bumpy texture to make it look even more aged.
I also love trash cans in Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge as, once again, they fit in so well with the galactic outpost. Similar to the Tower of Terror can, they appear aged as if they've been there for years and have seen many the Wookie walk by.
Trash Can Fun
Some trash cans aren't actually used for trash. Sometimes you might see a pin trading can out and about. A pin trading can is used as a base for displaying pins that guests can trade with. Bubble cans that blow bubbles at passing guests can sometimes be seen in the parks as well.
PUSH the talking trash can used to roam around the parks and interact with guests. He was a walking, (well, rolling) talking trash can that was pretty cool. I was lucky enough to meet PUSH's recycling friend Pipa a few times. Pipa roamed around Rafiki's Planet Watch in Animal Kingdom. As a fun fact, Pipa means 'container' in Swahili. Unfortunately, both PUSH and Pipa are off collecting trash elsewhere these days, but they were just another fun way that Disney used trash cans.
Disney must have realized the popularity of their trash cans as there now seems to be quite a lot of trash can-related merchandise that you can purchase in the parks - music to my ears. I now have trash can highlighters, a trash can Christmas ornament, a model trash can which I built from a kit, and of course, trash can salt and pepper shakers – a necessity for any enthusiast. I even have replica trash can plaques like the ones that used to be displayed on some of the cans. Yeah, I did say I had a bit of an obsession.
But what makes Disney's trash cans so iconic and merchandise-worthy? I think it's because they are so well created and themed that they act as the perfect symbol for an area of a park. They convey both the feel of the land and the feeling of being in a Disney park, and they're a great souvenir to remind you of Disney when you're back home. They symbolize both a theme and a theme park.
So, although they may be full of garbage on the inside, Disney's trash cans are certainly not trashy on the outside. Does anyone else have a favorite trash can from around the parks? Do you like collecting Disney trash can merchandise?
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