Midtown Raleigh News

High-tech trash bins aim to cut costs

Starting this summer, bins placed around Glenwood South will do more than just collect trash and recyclables.

These “smart cans” know how to send email, too.

The bins use solar panels to power a motor that automatically presses down the contents, so crews don’t have to make pickups as often.

An electronic chip installed in the bin emails a trash collector when it becomes full, a helpful bit of intelligence that saves on both fuel costs and manpower time.

The city plans to install 20 of these high-tech gizmos in Glenwood South, an eco-friendly pilot project coming this summer to the popular entertainment district with a $150,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Restaurant and bar owners applauded the change.

“The other ones are such an eyesore, wide open trash cans that smell,” said Gerry MacDiarmada, general manager of the Hibernarian pub. “These new ones are sleeker and a lot easier on the eye.”

Alex Amra, owner of Tobacco Road Sports Cafe, said trash cans are a problem on the weekends because no one empties them. The cafe puts its own trash bags on the patio to prevent overflows, he said.

The new bins can hold five times more garbage than ordinary trash cans, city officials said.

They also expect the new bins to pay for themselves within four years. An analysis found the solar-powered receptacles would save $38,000 per year in vehicle, labor and maintenance costs.

Currently, city collection crews make two trips each day through Glenwood South. Pickups are expected to fall to twice weekly, with one additional weekly trip to gather recyclables.

Raleigh has sought to become more sustainable through advances such as energy-efficient lighting and electric car charging stations.

Glenwood South’s metal bins are the city’s latest effort. The bins, which will replace trash cans in the area, are technically called “Big Belly” solar trash compactors. More than 13,000 Big Belly units are in use worldwide.

The fleet coming to Glenwood South should get plenty of use. With its bars, restaurants and galleries, the district draws big crowds that tend to congregate on the wide sidewalks.

As part of a kickoff event last week, fifth-graders from nearby Wiley Elementary School showed items that should be recycled.

The students learn about ecosystems, simple machines and energy as part of their science classes, said Sarah Palmer, an environmental educator at the school.

“It was a nice little end-of-the-year culmination of how science works in the real world,” she said. “We want them to have it as a second nature thing that you can recycle a can or a bottle.”

If they prove successful in Glenwood South, the city plans to install more bins near restaurants and bars on Fayetteville Street, said Julian Prosser, the city’s sustainability chief.

Staff writer Kelli Straka contributed to this story.