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Raleigh goes underground to find stink-free solution to downtown trash carts

Raleigh is ditching some of its downtown garbage carts in favor of new, partly underground trash containers.

The city will install six 8-foot deep cylinders, with 5 of those feet underground, in what is now a no-parking zone at the corner of Wilmington and Hargett streets.

The new containers can each store about 20 carts worth of garbage and will require fewer trips to empty the trash. The 95-gallon carts currently used are emptied twice per day, except for Sunday, and businesses must roll them to the curb for pickup.

“It’s very exciting for us that Raleigh is the first city in the country to adopt this underground storage model,” said Stan Joseph, Raleigh’s Solid Waste Services director, in a news release.

“It’s a simple concept using innovative technology,” he added. “The bottom line is that we want to improve quality of life — and part of that is getting garbage carts off the sidewalks and away from neighbors and visitors enjoying downtown.”

The containers were developed in Finland in 1991 by Molok. They’re used around the world, but this marks their debut in the United States.

“The capacity is quite significant,” said Tom Corcoran, vice president of Molok North America. “That, in part, is why the city wanted to adopt it to get rid of the carts that are clogging up the sidewalks.”

Because the containers are mostly underground, there is virtually no odor, he said.

Restaurants in the pilot program will be able to place their bagged trash in the containers at their convenience, and pedestrians will also be able to use the Molok containers as well. The containers at Hargett and Wilmington will likely be installed in June and the city will test their effectiveness compared to the city’s roll-out carts for at least three months, Joseph said.

The pilot location is surrounded by restaurants like Sitti, Gravy and The Raleigh Times, and there are about eight businesses that have signed up to test the Molok containers.

“We saw it as an opportunity for the entire city to be able to solve this problem of trash collection in blocks like these where you have historic buildings and no alleys in between,” said Andrew Stewart, president of Empire Properties, which owns some of the restaurants.

When the trash has to be collected, a truck with a crane will lift the container’s bag out of its shell and drop it into the vehicle. A lined well beneath the container will prevent liquid from leaking.

Multiple Molok containers would need to be installed throughout downtown to eliminate downtown’s approximately 500 trash carts, Joseph said.

The city’s Downtown Raleigh Cleanliness survey listed garbage carts as commenters’ top concern.

“The trash cans from businesses lining the sidewalks is disgusting, rotting food and possibly worse,” wrote one unnamed commenter. “I can’t understand why this is not taken into account when businesses are going through the development stage for permitting. Obviously the newer restaurants in older buildings are the main offenders.”

Autumn Cobeland, Lincoln Hancock and Jermaine Powell were selected to design public art for the outside of the new containers.

Anna Johnson covers Raleigh and Wake County for the News & Observer. She has previously covered city government, crime and business for newspapers across North Carolina and received many North Carolina Press Association awards, including first place for investigative reporting. She is a 2012 alumna of Elon University.
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