Selling Trash: An Interview with Justin Gignac

Justin Gignac goes out of his way to find garbage. Right off the street—from back alleys, from uptown, from downtown—he collects it late at night after his day job at an advertising firm. He boxes it up, labels it, then sells it for up to $100 via his company, NYC Garbage. Gignac has made trash trendy through a package design and marketing plan developed while he was a still a student at the School of Visual Arts.

Liz Danzico: Garbage isn’t the first thing people think of when brainstorming new product ideas. How did this all start?

Justin Gignac: I started selling New York City garbage when I was in college at the School of Visual Arts—I came up with the idea one day during my summer internship. A group of us were having a discussion about the importance of packaging, and someone claimed that package design wasn’t important. I disagreed. I figured the only way to really know if your package design is successful is to try to package something nobody would ever want. Garbage made perfect sense.

Danzico: But you not only did it, but you made it successful. How? Is it the product itself, the design of the packaging, or the delivery?

Gignac: The main thing that seems to resonate with buyers is simply the idea of buying trash. The details of the design and the aesthetic appeal of the trash in the cube helps push it over the top, but the purity of the idea is what people seem to appreciate most.

Danzico: New York City produces 26 million pounds of trash per day. With such a potentially overwhelming selection, how do you go about collecting it?

Gignac: I usually collect trash late at night. The streets are always filthy, so people stare a lot less. I wear thick construction gloves and only pick up dry trash. Wet trash would rot in the cubes and, besides, I’m a bit squeamish.

Danzico: I would imagine. What other kinds of trash are off limits?

Gignac: Any trash that is wet automatically gets ruled out. I’ve made the mistake of putting soda cans that still had moisture in them in a few cubes, making all the type on the front label bleed. Not pretty.


There’s plenty of trash to pick from on the streets, so I stay out of trashcans and dumpsters. Plus, there are people that already handle those so I wouldn’t want to cut in on their action.

Danzico: Have you ever had to compete for good trash?

Gignac: Trying to find trash around Madison Square Garden during the Republican Convention was really tough. The city had an army of sanitation workers out. I think they wanted to act as if we were really a clean city.

Also, I sometimes run into situations with street sweepers. They tend to take all the good stuff and I get sprayed with that crap that comes off the brushes in the process.

Danzico: How important is location to the price of the item? Is trash from Manhattan more valuable than other boroughs, for example?

Gignac: Well, original New York City garbage goes for $50, and limited edition garbage goes for $100. I’ve done limited editions from New Year’s Eve in Times Square, the Republican National Convention and most recently from Opening Day at Yankee Stadium. Yankee Stadium Garbage is $100 and due to unfavorable approval ratings I’ve lowered the price of Republican trash to 50 bucks.

Danzico: Let’s talk about the packaging itself. How important was package design to your marketing plan?

Gignac: When I first came up with the idea, Beanie Babies was the hugest thing on the planet. I never got it and thought it was stupid. People went nuts over certain dolls just because the company decided they were “limited editions.” It seemed like such a ridiculous idea. So I figured, “Why not do that?”

If I’m going to sell garbage I have to make it as “collectible” as possible, so the label reads, “Garbage of New York City 100% authentic Hand-picked from the fertile streets of NY, NY.” To reinforce the authenticity, I put a sticker on the top edge of each cube as a faux seal that has the date the garbage was picked, and I sign and number each cube on the bottom.

First published in Voice: AIGA Journal of Design | View original