Solar Powered Trash Cans Get Mixed Reviews

big bellyIt's called the BigBelly (not to be confused with a Jelly Belly) and it just might be the future of trash cans. And, God knows, trash cans need something to make them look forward to the future. They run on 30 watt solar power panels and are made from recycled plastic. They are heavy enough not to tip over in a strong wind and can be emptied less often than an average waste basket, which means less times the city garbage collectors have to drive by and empty them. They also can compact 150 pounds of trash a day. Sounds hopeful, doesn't it?

But the reaction some American cities are giving the BigBelly is definitely not promising.

New York Says No

One of the American cities that has stopped a trial run with BigBelly is the Big Apple.  The trial started in 2005 and ended in July, 2008. They claim several problems with the BigBelly, including:

  • Cost ($3,500 to $7000 each)
  • Opening for trash looks like a mailbox slot
  • New Yorkers thinking BigBelly was a mailbox and getting really miffed when they found out what happened to their mail
  • Training sanitation workers on how to empty it

There's also been grumbling in Wichita, Kansas and Seattle over the initial cost of the bins and that it might be a threat to the jobs of garbage collectors. Also, you can't go dumpster diving in BigBelly trash cans, but after being compacted, there's not much to retrieve, anyway. 

Some complaints have also centered around the nature of compacting. This squeezes out oxygen and microorganisms that help decompose trash. It is argued that compacted trash takes more time to decompose. However, you have to empty regular trash cans two or three times more often, which means more driving around in trucks and, well, getting compacted in trucks.

Other Cities Say Yes

Other American cities that are giving BigBelly a trial run include Philadelphia. Three were installed last month with a lot of fanfare (including throwing the ribbon into the BigBelly after it was cut for the inaugural trash toss). They already are given steady employment in Sacramento, Baltimore, Chicago and Boston. However, many regular trash cans were removed and replaced with very few BigBelly cans, making it harder to find anyplace to put your trash.

Vancouver, British Columbia tried a similar solar powered trash can in 2006 and didn't like it, but they have been willing to try BigBelly for a one year trial starting in August of 2008.    

Not just content to stay on the North American continent, BigBelly has met with far less grumbling in Australia.

No trash solution is going to be perfect, but it is time for cities to look at long term costs over decades rather than at just the initial price tag. Perhaps we should use both kinds of trash cans until we can switch over to solar-powered or the majority of citizens making less trash in the first place. It is hoped that a successful trial run in Philadelphia and British Columbia will make other cities such as New York and Wichita change their minds about the future of trash cans.

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1 comment

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Charles M. 110°

Wrong approach.

This is like handing out pain tablets for a broken leg. It tries to fix the **symptom**, not the **problem**.

What the hell is going on in a world where we need trashcans that can hold 150 pounds of trash?

I'll hazard a guess that most trash is a result of over packaging in the fast food industry. Dump the packaging from a few Happy Meals and a regular trashcan is full. One way to fix that is to make the fast food industry responsible for the entire trash system. That would make them think of better ways to reduce the packaging.

On your average city street there are many fast food joints and many trash cans. If the fast food joints picked up the trash and emptied it into their own trash system then:
*There would be no need for new trashcans.
*There would be no need for trash trucks.
*The industry would be motivated to improve.

Sure, in the above scenario, Mac Trash would end up in KFC-emptied trash cans, and vice versa, but the system would end up being fair.

Written in September 2008

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