High-tech Raleigh trash cans have big savings

ccampbell@newsobserver.comMarch 19, 2013 

— The sleek new trash cans downtown aren’t just keeping garbage from blowing down the street – they’re also saving the city money and encouraging recycling, according to a report released Tuesday.

Last year, Raleigh installed 37 “Big Belly” solar trash compactors on Fayetteville Street and Glenwood South, using a $150,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. Each receptacle harnesses solar power to compress the garbage, allowing for less frequent pick-ups. The devices also alert sanitation crews by email when they fill up.

With fewer collections, the cost of emptying cans has been reduced dramatically. The city used to spend about $53,000 a year to keep the busy downtown districts clean. Now they’re spending about $1,700 a year.

Each unit costs about $6,000; estimates indicate they’ll pay for themselves within four years.

The sanitation workers also find less debris around the cans. “There’s no more cleaning up around the Big Bellies,” said Phillip White of the city’s Solid Waste Department. “It’s a much pleasanter sight.”

Recycling efforts have also gotten a boost since the Big Belly units each have attached recycling containers. Earlier downtown receptacles were unmarked.

“It was unclear what was recyclable and what was not,” White said.

Big Belly receptacles show drawings of what materials are recyclable. The units have collected 65,000 gallons of recyclables in the past six months, making up 73 percent of what goes in the cans, White said.

In recent months, the high-tech garbage cans have been added at Baileywick and Chavis parks and along the Neuse River Greenway. City officials want to expand the program more, possibly with support from the private sector. “We may want to look at some innovative partnerships,” said Jen Baker, the city’s senior sustainability technician.

But don’t expect the solar compactors to replace all traditional garbage cans.

“When my trash can starts sending me emails, I’m probably going to stop reading my emails,” joked Councilman Randy Stagner.

Campbell: 919-829-4802 or twitter.com/RaleighReporter

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