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Cornell Daily Sun: Solar Trash Cans Compact Garbage On the Commons


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ITHACA, NY - The Ithaca Commons is sporting new devices for green waste collection: solar-powered trash cans.
“From a Board of Public Works perspective, the BigBelly has performed well,” said Kristin Lewis, operations manager of the Downtown Ithaca Alliance and owner of Morris’ Men’s Wear, which is on the Commons.

“They have been received very well by the public,” she added.

Regular trash, with its assortment of items ranging from used tissues to empty bags, is mostly air. The solar cans, which are manufactured by Massachusetts-based BigBelly Solar, reduce the resources devoted to waste collection and transportation by compacting trash inside each can.

The cans use a compactor plate powered by a 30-watt solar panel and a 12-volt motorcycle battery.

Officials said the two cans currently on the Commons seem to be living up to their potential.

“It doesn’t attract bees or smell so you … never know you’re sitting next to a trash can,” Lewis said. “I am very proud to be involved in what I believe is the future of trash collection.”

“We try not to have potential customers look at how much the BigBelly costs” but look at the potential savings, which often equate to a two- to four- year payback, Dalton said. Lewis said that the energy savings from eliminating unnecessary garbage-truck trips, as well as that the cans have “not required any maintenance other than a rinsing once or twice.” Each BigBelly stores energy until the can reaches a certain fullness, at which point the unit comes out of ‘sleeping mode’ and compresses the trash with 1200 lbs of force, said Rob Dalton, director of business development at BigBelly. By comparison, home trash compactors generally exert between 2000 and 5000 lbs. After compression, the can is ready to receive more trash. BigBelly cans need to be emptied less frequently, the company says. It claims that 80% of garbage truck trips can be eliminated when BigBelly cans replace regular ones in a neighborhood, cutting down on pollution and labor associated with collection. The company’s website prominently asserts that the City of Philadelphia expects savings of $13 million over ten years from a complete switch to the BigBellies. A cost-savings calculator on BigBelly’s website estimates that Cornell’s campus, with more than 250 trash cans, would save seven to eight million dollars and half a million gallons of fuel over ten years. It takes one hour of sunlight for the solar panels to give the battery sufficient charge for several weeks, Dalton said. The panels still provide enough charge even in the winter or in deep shade, he said. Extra energy provided by the panels has allowed the company to expand its “capabilities to [include monitoring] real-time waste levels” and to send text messages to workers alerting them when a can is nearly full. [...] Solar-powered trash collection appears to be rising in popularity, riding the wave of consumers’ increasing preference for ‘sustainable’ products and practices. Waste Management recently began selling a solar compactor and has placed cans at prominent locations, such as the Alamo and Fenway Park.

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