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Is Metal or Plastic the Best Outdoor Garbage Can?

Dr. Penny Pincher founded the popular personal finance blog Penny Pincher Journal in 2013 and has published two books about saving money.

Which is better for an outdoor garbage can?

Which is better for an outdoor garbage can?

How to Find the Best Outdoor Garbage Can

Whether you like it or not, your garbage can is an important part of your life. When your garbage can works well, you barely notice it. It holds all of your garbage without spilling or leaking. You can easily move it to your curb for pick-up. The lid doesn't blow away and get lost. You can spend minimal time and energy dealing with your garbage. Life is good.

But: if you have a garbage can that does not work out, it can make your life miserable. If your garbage can has a hole in the bottom, it can leak in your garage and smell terrible. If the garbage can is too small, you'll need to pile bags of garbage around your garbage can, and maybe even pay extra to tag each bag that will not fit in your garbage can. If your garbage can lid doesn't fit securely, you might find animals tearing into your garbage and making a huge mess.

Here are the most important features in outdoor garbage cans, and tips for selecting the best one for you.

Metal vs. Plastic Garbage Cans

The main difference between types of garbage cans is the material from which they're made. The main material choices are metal and plastic.

Metal garbage cans are stronger and more durable than plastic garbage cans. However, they are also heavier and have fewer shape options. Metal garbage cans are typically cylindrical in shape with a lid that presses in place.

A basic metal garbage can.

A basic metal garbage can.

I used a metal garbage can in my barn to store chicken feed for many years. Metal is best for storing seeds because mice can chew through plastic (but not metal). Additionally, metal garbage cans are galvanized to resist rust for years.

Plastic garbage cans are not as durable as metal garbage cans. I had plastic garbage cans without wheels that I would drag down my driveway on garbage day. After a few years, they wore holes in the bottom as the plastic wore away. Plastic garbage cans without wheels will wear holes in the bottom if you drag them across rough surfaces like concrete or gravel.

This plastic garbage can will wear holes in the bottom quickly if you drag it across a rough surface.

This plastic garbage can will wear holes in the bottom quickly if you drag it across a rough surface.

Some cylindrical plastic garbage cans have a plastic ridge along the outside edge. This is a key feature to look for in a cylindrical plastic garbage can. The ridges should provide a much better wear surface and will last much longer.

Plastic garbage can with ridges on bottom to resist wearing holes though the bottom

Plastic garbage can with ridges on bottom to resist wearing holes though the bottom

Should I Get a Can With Wheels?

Some garbage cans have wheels on the bottom. This makes the garbage can much easier to move when full. If you have a 35-gallon garbage can, it can weigh well over 100 pounds when full of garbage.

A disadvantage of wheels is that they are a moving part that can break. If a wheel breaks on a garbage can with wheels, the garbage can is no longer very useful and would need to be replaced. Also, garbage cans with wheels are a bit more expensive.

Garbage can with wheels

Garbage can with wheels

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After my last move, I upgraded from a plastic cylinder garbage can with no wheels to one with wheels. I appreciate having the wheels when I have a full load. You tip the garbage can toward the wheels to roll it easily. When you have the garbage can in place, you allow it to rest flat and it will no longer roll.

Another nice thing about garbage cans with wheels is their shape. These garbage cans typically have a flat side—this allows it to be stored right against a wall. Round garbage cans cannot be stored against a wall as efficiently.

If you do prefer the round shape, you can get round garbage cans with wheels as well.

Choosing the Right Size: How Big Do I Need?

I find that my 32-gallon Hefty garbage can wheels is a bit too small to hold the entire week's garbage from my family of four at times. I recycle a lot, but sometimes I end up with an extra bag or two that won't fit. I decided to try a larger trash can and got a 50-gallon garbage can.

It turned out that my city has a maximum of 35-gallon garbage containers. I think this limit is to protect the garbage collector from injury trying to lift and dump containers that are too heavy. Luckily, I was able to return the 50-gallon garbage can, but it sure was nice for the one week I got to use it!

The lesson here is to check the local rules before you buy a garbage can...

Lid Options

The lid of a garbage can is important—a tight seal helps reduce odors in the garage. A good lid holds the garbage in your can on a windy day and does not come off in the wind. A tight lid can also make it harder for the neighborhood dogs and cats to get into your garbage and make a mess.

Some garbage cans have snap-on lids. If these lids are made out of low-quality plastic, they can become warped over time in the sun and not fit as well.

Some garbage cans with wheels have lids that are attached to the garbage can with a hinge. This is a nice feature. The larger ones remind me of a car hood.

Garbage Can with Hinged Lid

Garbage Can with Hinged Lid

Color Options

With plastic garbage cans, you have some color choices. The most popular colors seem to be black, green, and light blue. I have also seen some red plastic garbage cans. I think a neutral color makes sense for a garbage can, because you don't really want to draw attention to it.

Popular Garbage Can Colors: light blue, forest green, and black

Popular Garbage Can Colors: light blue, forest green, and black

Tips and Recommendations

  • Get the largest size that your local rules allow: You don't need to fill it all the way full every garbage day. It is nice to have extra capacity for holidays, visitors, etc.
  • Get a garbage can with wheels: These are easy to move when full and prevent wear on the bottom of the garbage can from dragging it.
  • Check wear surfaces: If your garbage can gets a hole in the bottom, it will leak. Avoid plastic garbage cans without wheels that have a flat bottom, as they are more likely to wear through.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2013 Dr Penny Pincher


Rich on July 11, 2019:

I’ve used 2 Sears plastic garbage cans for 42 years. Wish they still made them.

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