Home » Trash Management Is The Biggest And Simplest Problem With Cars And It’s Time We Figure It Out

Trash Management Is The Biggest And Simplest Problem With Cars And It’s Time We Figure It Out

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There is a whole rich, well-stocked, delicious buffet of problems to solve in the automotive industry. There’s problems related to making cars safer, both for the people inside and outside, there’s the issues relating to sustainability and emissions and general environmental responsibility, we have EV problems with charging networks and batteries and cost and weight and replicability and all cars are still too damn expensive, and and dear god, so so so many more problems. Problems everywhere, and they’re all insurmountable-seeming nightmares. But I have an idea! Screw all that, let’s focus on a much simpler, much easier, but still remarkably ubiquitous and pervasive problem in the automotive world: trash.

Specifically, inside-car trash. Cars are really quite small, complex spaces, full of carpet and crannies and nooks and keeping that interior clean is, honestly, challenging. No matter how neat or careful you may be, at some point you have to deal with some unwanted matter in your car, matter we commonly think of as “trash” or “garbage” or “my chapbook of personal poetry.”

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There’s nowhere good to stick little bits of accumulated trash in cars. Often, wrappers and receipts and other unwanted stuff ends up clogging door pockets, which keeps it sort of out of sight, but is still gross, and once you do see, is even grosser. The passenger footwell is another common dump site, and while it’s easy to chuck trash in there, it looks terrible and makes you depressed every time you get in your car and see all those Big Beef and Cheddar wrappers. It feels like a gut-punch.

Sure, there’s aftermarket solutions, but they, almost exclusively, suck. They’re little bags that hang from seats or tiny cans that fit into cupholders and need emptying every 42 minutes or sloppy, bulky canisters – none of these really do the job. Plus, when you empty any of these, you’re having to awkwardly wrestle out a likely overfilled bag of trash through the inside of your car, and this can often end in droppage or worse. I know. I’ve been there.

What I propose is an in-car trash management system that satisfies at least three fundamental criteria:

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  1. It must not be space-intrusive in the already full-of-stuff cabin
  2. It must be easy to access and use, at least as easy as shoving a wrapper in a door pocket or center console
  3. It must be able to be emptied out from the outside of the car.

Years ago, I toyed with an idea, but David saw my drawing and made fun of me, mostly because my example car was a rear-engined van:

Van Trashbin

And, okay, maybe he’s right, maybe that doesn’t reflect what most cars on the road today are like, and maybe it’s making things too easy. But I think there’s some basically decent ideas there. Still, I have one other idea, and then a way to revisit that one.

My new idea is actually something potentially easy to make and implement into a wide variety of cars today. It’s a trash management system that would exist under a car’s front seats (or just the passenger seat, if you want to cheap out):

Easy Solution

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So, basically, the seat frame would be designed so that the unused under-seat area would have a little drawer. Maybe ECUs and some other hardware would need to be re-located, and, yes, I realize some rear footroom may take a hit, but in most SUVs and crossovers this really wouldn’t be much of an issue. The drawer would be resting on a few spherical rollers to help facilitate sliding both forward, backward, and sideways, out the side of the seat and out the open car door, for emptying.

It would work very simply. If you have trash, you’d slide out the drawer (forwards, between your legs if you’re up front, backward, towards your legs if you’re in the rear) and you’d chuck your trash in there. Repeat until the bin is full, then slide it sideways and dump it out in the trash or on the lawn of a frenemy! The drawer would be simple, hard-wearing plastic, so you could easily wash it out with a hose or in your sink if it got too gross, like if someone in the back seat pukes in it.

Sure, a bit of engineering is needed to find a way to make the drawer lock in place and still be easy to pull back, forth, and out, and when it comes out the side of the car, it needs to clear the lower door sill, but there’s so many brilliant automotive engineers out there that I feel like these details can be easily sorted.

In the guise of storage bins, these sort of under-seat drawers have appeared on a number of cars; here’s an Audi one, for example:

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We’d just need to adapt this sort of design a bit to allow for front and rear sliding, and removal sideways, out the door. Again, this is a solvable problem!

Trash could get shoved in here, out of sight, it’d be easy to empty, and everyone wins! Why isn’t this kind of thing in cars already? Don’t tell me because there’s no need: I’ve seen people’s cars. They’re full of trash!

Okay, so that’s the relatively easy solution, one that wouldn’t require any major changes to a car’s body or structure. This next one might:

Hard Solution

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I still like the idea of an in-floor trash solution. Something where there’s a volume of space under the floor of one (or more!) of the footwells, and trash can be flung into a receptacle under the floormat, or via some manner of lid in the floormat. The cassette-like trash receptacle could then be slid out from the lower sill of the car, and its filthy contents dumped into a suitable trash-thing, like a dumpster or sarlacc.

What I like about this is that you could, say, lift a floor mat and just brush or scrape or rake all the crap on your car’s floor into the crap-hole, and then it’s all gone! You slide out that cassette, dump it, and your life is pure again.

Of course, in EVs, that space is usually taken up by batteries, so unless you want to sacrifice a roughly one foot-by-one-and-a-half-foot section of battery pack, maybe this setup won’t work so well. But, otherwise, it could be so sleek and well-integrated! If each footwell had its own trash cassette, keeping your car clean would be trivially easy.

The point is, we need to do something. Here it is, the year of many peoples’ lord 2024, and our super-sleek, advanced cars are still full of trash. We need some good, integrated, simple solutions. I’m not saying what I’ve described here are going to be the end results, but I am saying that it’s a place to start.

Really, we just need a place for the trash. A dedicated place that is not also a storage compartment. It needs to be easily accessible, and easy to empty. But just having a specified location for trash to go is half the battle.

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We need to be freed from the tyranny of crushed cans and wadded receipts and banana peels. We deserve better. It’s time.

 

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Clubwagon Chateau
Clubwagon Chateau
18 days ago

I like your designs, Jason. I grew up with a ’79 Coupe de Ville and an ’80 Buick. Both cars had a removable, upholstery-matching trash bin that simply slid onto a couple of pegs under the glove box on the right outboard wall. It worked great so long as you had a front passenger you could hand refuse to.

Miguel
Miguel
22 days ago

Why do you illustrate your article with a picture of a lovely Škoda 1201 converted into a rubbish bin?

Last edited 22 days ago by Miguel
Freelivin1327
Freelivin1327
23 days ago

Wow, what a “trashy” article! Ha ha this is why I keep coming back to read funny and interesting ideas and topics. Also, I usually keep my interior spotless but have just used Walmart bags in the past and it works good but uses more plastic (I usually take them back to recycle) but it still looks “trashy” ha ha

Last edited 23 days ago by Freelivin1327
Rapgomi
Rapgomi
23 days ago

IIRC – Older Rolls-Royces had large ashtrays that would empty the ashtray contents onto the road beneath the car whenever driven at highway speeds. Of course that’s probably not a solution that would work today…

Thi
Thi
23 days ago

Or you just take the small amount of trash you made in a trip out of your car and put it in the trashcan when you get to your destination or at home.

Example: If you eat fast food in your car, put all the trash in the bag that it came in. When you get out of the car, you pick up that one bag and trash it.

Simple. Don’t keep trash in your car like a slob.

Morgan van Humbeck
Morgan van Humbeck
23 days ago
Reply to  Thi

Hard agree. That being said, I have a ten year old and a three year old. My solution is to keep a small single tailed whip in the driver footwell

Last edited 23 days ago by Morgan van Humbeck
VanGuy
VanGuy
23 days ago

In my Prius v, I have a tiny trash can on the flat floor of the back row. When I get to a gas station and need to empty it out, I simple take it out and flip it over into one of their big trash bins. Small enough to be done with one hand.

Not ideal if I have all 5 seats occupied, but that’s only happened once or maybe twice since I’ve had this vehicle.

I had a similar setup with my old van–trash can goes on the floor between the front two seats. Barely uses any floor space, and either way there was plenty of spare floor space to go around in that.

Last edited 23 days ago by VanGuy
Chartreuse Bison
Chartreuse Bison
23 days ago

it looks terrible and makes you depressed every time you get in your car

There shouldn’t still be trash in the car when you are getting back in. You take it in, you take it out the same trip.

Last edited 23 days ago by Chartreuse Bison
PlatinumZJ
PlatinumZJ
23 days ago

Growing up, my parents kept various enclosed receptacles in their vehicles, and I even had a miniature trash can (with a tightly-closing lid) for the back seat. While in-vehicle trash disposal could definitely use a more elegant solution, I never remember it being a problem growing up because you took the trash out when you stopped. You could be at a mall, a rest area, a gas station…there’s going to be a trash can, so tidy the vehicle!

Ricardo Mercio
Ricardo Mercio
23 days ago

I think this is severely over-complicated, trash is a simple problem with a simple solution.The ashtray has already been perfected for this very purpose, it can be removed from the vehicle and emptied with no mess. All you need is to scale up its base concept: A storage compartment with a lid and a removable liner, in one of the 2 locations already used: The center console or driver’s door pocket. I think the door pocket is best, so that one can just open the door and pop out the tray without having to get in the car, fiddle with the fob, press a button or even go around to the passenger’s side.

As for your designs, the flat under-floor bin would be rather hard to fill, as the waste would go into the central hole and then tend to stay right there, blocking the hole, while the corners remain empty Horizontal space also allows stuff to slide around and rattle while driving. What you really want is a quintessential trash can: A vertical compartment that’s widest at the opening.

The under-seat solution may *work*, but would require convoluted seat rails with a huge gap on the side, a lifted seat, no electronics under the seat and, I would posit, is far too large. Both solutions require the driver to lean over into the passenger’s footwell if they’re alone, but worst, they’re large-vehicle-exclusive solutions, far from what we need for this universal problem that plagues all vehicles.

How can I manage the garbage in my Boxster when the seats are as low as Stuttgart could design them and the floor is little more than a non-aggression pact between my heels and the road? Elementary: Give my (already cavernous) door pocket a removable liner. What Miatas, Cybertrucks and Maybachs all have in common is doors. Regardless of go-kart seating position, battery-pack-as-floor packaging, or 832-way adjustable memory heated-and-cooled massaging seats, doors have had at least some usable room in them ever since side-impact testing was created.

Cars generally house 3 types of garbage: Tissues, wrappers and plastic bottles. Tissues and wrappers are both soft and extremely compact, while bottles can be crushed and don’t end up in vehicles all that often, usually only making an appearance on longer road trips where a stop at the Kum and Go mart is necessary to stay hydrated and nourished.

Ease of emptying is far more important than capacity, because if it’s really easy, one could clear it out when they stop for gas, which is often enough to make capacity a non-issue. If it can hold 2 half-crushed 20oz bottles and a pack of wadded-up tissues, what more could you need? Any larger garbage, such as an extra-large Slurpee, a takeout container or a large USPS flat-rate box, is the kind of thing you carry with yourself on your way out of the vehicle.

In short, I think you’re missing the forest for the trees, trying to solve the non-issue of large and copious garbage being accumulated instead of the real issue of small, loose bits of refuse that need to be merely contained until emptying is convenient.

Nick Fortes
Nick Fortes
23 days ago

Car trash is unacceptable. Literally everywhere you can drive outside of a logging trail has a waste receptacle at your destination. I don’t understand how folks don’t just carry that piece of trash out of the car when they exit. I’m constantly cleaning up wrappers and crushed seltzer water cans from my wife’s GLI. One day I moved her car and grabbed all the trash and pieces of paper etc and threw it away and she came back to me a day later asking did I throw away a receipt. I did because it was crumpled up in the door pocket like trash.

Fredzy
Fredzy
23 days ago
Reply to  Nick Fortes

This. Do less stuff in the car that will generate trash. Think about it – do you really need to be doing that in the car? Any trash I do generate in the car goes into a cupholder, or if bulky, the passenger footwell. I don’t want it out of sight/out of mind, I want to be sure I remember to take it when I get out. Second, any trash generated within the car goes with you upon next exit. Simple.

VanGuy
VanGuy
23 days ago
Reply to  Fredzy

I have an extremely runny nose and have a tissue box in my car. My car trash can is constantly filled with used tissues.

Any receipts in my car must come in for me to record before I shred them. It’s possible they fell out of my pocket or something.

Trust Doesn't Rust
Trust Doesn't Rust
23 days ago

Are we just going to ignore the fact that most of us are driving around in a mobile incinerator? If we’re burnin’ gas, we might as well burn trash.

Ricardo Mercio
Ricardo Mercio
23 days ago

That would quickly destroy a catalytic converter, not to mention the amount of people that would throw non-burnable trash in and grenade their engine.

NewBalanceExtraWide
NewBalanceExtraWide
23 days ago

My tiny hatchback has a five dollar bin from Target wedged between the back of the console cup holders and the folded down back seat. It is like it was made to fit there. It never shifts and dumps out because of the flexible plastic friction fit and it is easy to pull out and go to my trash bins to sort out recyclables. So get an ex-rental Chevy Sonic with dents on every panel and a catalytic converter check engine light- it really is a perfect vehicle for reasons like this.

Dumb Shadetree
Dumb Shadetree
23 days ago

So get an ex-rental Chevy Sonic with dents on every panel and a catalytic converter check engine light

I think when Torch said “trash management” he meant “managing trash that accumulates inside the car”, not “managing cars that are trash”.
Seriously though, those are decent little go-karts as long as you can keep the coolant where it belongs.

Scott Ashley
Scott Ashley
23 days ago

I drive a car with a manual transmission (save the manuals) my low tech solution is to repurpose a plastic grocery bag by hanging it over the stick into the passenger side. When it is full i change. Until Torch’s highly engineered solution becomes standard adding 1000 dollars to the price of every, car its as good as it gets. Now if i only could get my GF to use it when she is in the car … Yup no perfect solution

UnseenCat
UnseenCat
23 days ago
Reply to  Scott Ashley

This reminds me that there once were plastic trash bags which were designed to be hung from one of the knobs on the radio. (Because radios once had real honest-to goodness knobs to control them!) Mainly for tissues and small stuff. I’m pretty sure you could buy them at auto parts stores of the day (Western Auto, anyone?) but mainly they were given away by full-service car washes and repair shops as a courtesy.

Thomas Metcalf
Thomas Metcalf
23 days ago

Ok, my EVEN BETTER idea will save both fuel and the environment (Note that the latter claim is very dubious). We have all seen the wood gas generators used to power trucks in North Korea or WWII Germany. Let’s make some sort of system that you can throw trash in here it will be converted to “Clean” burning fuel. This would be great as a range extender on an EV. When your battery starts getting low, chuck a couple of Big Mac wrappers and Tim Hortons cups into the trash gasification unit and get a few more miles of range!

Freelivin1327
Freelivin1327
23 days ago
Reply to  Thomas Metcalf

Yeah, like on Back To The Future!

Noodles Gargamel
Noodles Gargamel
23 days ago

I have a place for trash. It’s called out-the-fucken-window.

Scone Muncher
Scone Muncher
23 days ago

OK Dennis, we get it, you’re an…

Nathan
Nathan
24 days ago

“get in your car and see all those Big Beef and Cheddar wrappers”

Your first mistake was eating at Arby’s, and your second mistake was eating in the car.

Please eat a carrot.

Nathaniel
Nathaniel
24 days ago

I propose a small garbage compactor and incinerator inside the center arm rest. When full, the driver would initiate a burn-compress-excrete cycle. A powerful convection fan would be paired with a food processor-style blade. Gasoline or diesel would be injected and ignited. The refuse would be ground up, burned, and reduced to ash. Exhaust gases would be routed out the car’s tailpipe. The ash would then be compressed into pellets and released straight below the car at stop lights or when travelling above 75 miles per hour. Electric cars would make due with an air fryer type unit and would need dedicated exhaust systems.

Last edited 24 days ago by Nathaniel
ES
ES
23 days ago
Reply to  Nathaniel

bonus points if there is some liquification of the pellets (at least a gel). Paintball racing…

Pappa P
Pappa P
24 days ago

I had this exact problem, and I have the perfect solution.
The drawer thing will be hazardous to use while driving, especially if you have to unlatch it to open it. Also, it won’t get emptied, and your car will stink.
The hole in the floor will allow melted snow and salt to seep through, destroying your car.
I was chucking trash into the passenger side footwell for a while, and as Jason stated, it disturbed me.
So I took a plastic shopping bag and hung it off my shifter into the passenger footwell.
It holds a few weeks of trash, accomodates any size trash in your car, doesn’t intrude much on leg space, is extremely easy and safe to use, and I can readily see when it’s time to chuck it and replace the bag, so no residue.

Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
24 days ago

How much garbage are you accumulating in your car that it necessitates an actual garbage can?

I mean, gas stations have garbage cans.
My work has em.
So does my house.
Pretty much anywhere I usually park has one nearby.

Just throw trash away directly after its usefulness has expired.

Long road trip?
Just slice the top off an empty water bottle and stick it in an unoccupied cup holder.

That’ll handle most car trash problems…
Banana peels
Gum wrappers
Even a slightly used baby wipe.

Then you just toss the water bottle in any of the aforementioned, conveniently located rubbish receptacles along your route.

Slice the top off the plastic bottle you just turned into trash…
Bam! New, in car, trash can.

(rinse reuse recycle right?)

Last edited 24 days ago by Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Pappa P
Pappa P
24 days ago

Sounds good, but requires you to carry tools for temporary trash receptacle fabrication, plus you might cut your self.
Then you’ll be throwing a recyclable bottle in the trash, so that’s not great.

Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
24 days ago
Reply to  Pappa P

Tools?
It’s a simple pocket knife.
Anyone who doesn’t carry one is a weirdo.
Might cut yourself?
It’s a dangerous world out there, and that is a stupid argument.
Recyclable bottle in the trash?
You do recognize that garbage bags, you know the bags that hold nearly everybody on the planet’s garbage, are made of plastic right?

VanGuy
VanGuy
23 days ago

What are you talking about? My friends already make fun of me for my devotion to cargo pants and it’d hardly get any easier if I started putting a pocket knife in them, too. I haven’t been like “ooh, I wish I had a pocket knife right now” since high school, if even then, and that was a decade ago.

Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
23 days ago
Reply to  VanGuy

“ My friends already make fun of me for my devotion to cargo pants”

Like I said… weirdo’s.

Pappa P
Pappa P
23 days ago

Whoa! Sorry I touched a nerve.
Plastic bags can’t be recycled where I live, and no, I don’t carry any weapons that could get me murdered by the police, even if I could use them to do a jackass thing like cutting a water bottle in half to house a banana peel.
Another thing that makes the idea so dumb is that most people have fast food bags and wrappers to throw away, which won’t fit in the bottle thing you so proudly made.
In closing, I only know of a few grown men that carry knives and they are most certainly weirdos.
Also, you’ve cut yourself before and I absolutely guarantee you will do it again.

Outofstep
Outofstep
23 days ago

That’s what I was thinking. I’ve taken a 14 hour road trip with 4 people. At every gas or bathroom break we dumped whatever we’d accumulated. And if we hadn’t thrown it out and waited until the end of the drive it probably would’ve been 2 plastic bags worth of stuff. How long is garbage sitting in a car? Because if it is enough garbage to necessitate a garbage can then that means you have trash sitting in your car for weeks which is all kinds of gross.

Space
Space
24 days ago

Simple, vinyl floors. Once enough trash accumulates in the passenger footwell simply open the door and the wind carries it away. Drive through a river for the really sticky stuff.

Thomas Metcalf
Thomas Metcalf
23 days ago
Reply to  Space

Better yet, pull a Dave Matthews Band and dump your waste on a bridge so the river below carries it away. Just watch out for boats!

The Dude
The Dude
24 days ago

My Odyssey has a simple, yet effective solution. a little plastic piece flips out from behind the center console with space to put a small trash bag through it.

When the kiddos decide to put trash there, it works great. In reality, they rarely use it haha.

Freelivin1327
Freelivin1327
23 days ago
Reply to  The Dude

Yeah, that thing was awesome…it adds the part about trash being sight unseen- which does help you enjoy your car psychologically. Plus if it’s all “clean” trash like tissues it can sit it there for days and you don’t have to see it. I usually have just used Walmart bags hanging off the shifter in the past anyway

Ted Schwartz
Ted Schwartz
24 days ago

I have two cars and there isn’t a bit of trash in either of them. It’s not a hard thing to do, contrary to Torch’s statements above. If there’s something inside the car that doesn’t belong there, then the next time you stop, take it out and dispose of it. Gas stations have trash cans. Car washes have trash cans. Even when traveling I keep trash out of the car by taking it out at every stop for fuel, food or restroom.

Rust Buckets
Rust Buckets
24 days ago
Reply to  Ted Schwartz

So….. The whole article is about facilitating exactly the removing of trash at every stop you just described. You’re not disagreeing with Torch as much as you think you are.

Ted Schwartz
Ted Schwartz
24 days ago
Reply to  Rust Buckets

Except that I don’t see the need to find a “solution” to the problem, because I don’t think it is one.

Rust Buckets
Rust Buckets
24 days ago
Reply to  Ted Schwartz

You don’t see the need to solve a problem, but you can understand the benefit of increased convenience, right? He didn’t say that it’s impossible to manage garbage in a car, just that it could be made more intentional and convenient.

The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
24 days ago
Reply to  Ted Schwartz

I think Jason’s point is you need *something* to hold the trash in between stops at the gas station. You’re not stopping every time you or your passengers generate a piece of trash. So where does it go?

Spikedlemon
Spikedlemon
24 days ago

Stuff it into the door handle and you’ll be reminded quickly that you should empty it as soon as you attempt to exit the car.

Rust Buckets
Rust Buckets
23 days ago
Reply to  Spikedlemon

Who wants greazy McDonald’s wrappers in their door handle making it gross? This is why stuff ends up on the floor.

Spikedlemon
Spikedlemon
23 days ago
Reply to  Rust Buckets

If you’re eating greasy McD’s in your car (or allowing others to do so), the grease is already a foregone conclusion.

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