Futuristic Solar-Powered Trash Cans Invade American Cities

Many U.S. cities are turning to solar-powered trash compactors to reduce the need for trash runs across town. These futuristic trash receptacles compress garbage down into the smallest possible size.

The compacting not only reduces the number of times that city employees have to empty the bins, but also shrinks the amount of landfill space the trash takes up. The compactors are slowly popping up in cities across the nation, from Seattle and Portland to Denver and Philadelphia.

trash cans

The compactors, typically identified as the “Big Belly” brand of solar trash compactors, have been promoted as an environmental efficiency tool. When the cans are completely full, they send out a wireless signal to city administrators to alert them that the bin is ready to be emptied.

Waste management workers come and empty the compactor. Before these self-identifying bins came along, trash cans had to be emptied multiple times a week, which entailed a waste of both money and gas, not to mention worker time.

The growing garbage issue

The solar-powered trash cans have received cautiously optimistic reviews from many city residents. Part of this is due to the desperate hope they will solve some of the largest looming environmental problems.

Cities are massive sources of trash, and photos of penguins wrapped in plastic beer containers and oil slicks coloring ocean water have caused many citizens to yearn for any worthwhile solutions.

However, not all is sunny with these futuristic trash cans. When they’re full, the bins lock up. In Philadelphia this has led to confused citizens leaving bags of trash outside the compactord.

Another potentially major problem with these trash receptacles is that the handle can become covered with gunk, which discourages use. Issues like this can lead to people avoiding the receptacles.

Cost is another issue city officials worry about when it comes to these bins, as the city coordinator for Delaware, Ohio pointed out. “The refuse containers aren’t cheap. They cost about $3,100 each, so it is important that we see a clear return on investment during the pilot program before considering proposing the purchase of additional cans.”

In larger cities, just installing the trash cans can cost in excess of $750,000.

Other methods cities are using to deal with trash

The Big Belly cans are only one way cities are dealing with garbage. Some cities tax property owners based on how much trash they produce, which helps pay for recycling programs.

Still, there’s been some resistance from residents who view it as an unfair burden, which is what happened a in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Still other programs focus on reducing general trash use by providing incentives for people who make an effort to throw away less.

Solar trash compactors are not yet the answer to most cities’ need to deal with waste management, but they’re could quickly become a major part of some of the biggest cities’ strategy. Despite all they promise for efficiency, solar trash compactors clearly have their downside.

Given their high cost and the potential for misuse, the Big Belly solar compactors have a ways to go.

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