I Reduce the Sanitation Department’s Fuel Consumption. What Am I?

Have you ever seen those big, black bins at Union Square—the ones that might be garbage cans, but look just as much like…a portal to a fantasy land? Or perhaps you have seen them in your hometown—be it Boston, Chicago, Philly, Salzburg, Cambridge, Frankfurt, or a slew of others—as these locations have recently placed such mysterious obstacles on street corners? Well, the mystery is about to be solved here: these bins are actually solar-powered trash compactors.
 A Big Belly Solar Compactor
  Big Belly Solar (a company created in 2003) has designed the trash compactor in order to reduce the amount of gas used by trash collection trucks during their rounds of pick-up. The bins hold approximately the same amount of garbage as an average bin, but by compacting the trash, their capacity is actually up to five times that of a regular bin load. In addition, each bin is wirelessly connected to a database; when the trash bin is full, a signal is sent requesting a pick-up (lights located on each bin also communicate this).
 Did I mention that all of these processes are solar-powered (the bins need only to ‘see’ the sky—no direct sunlight necessary)?!
What this does is eliminate the number to collection trips required, as collection trucks do not waste time emptying bins that are empty. If you are willing to believe Big Belly Solar, this is a 70-80% reduction in collection trips. This then cuts down the amount of time pick-up trucks spend idling. In addition, expenditure for labor, maintenance and other supplies will be reduced, as the $4,000 bins pay for themselves and even return thousands in savings–all while greening the environment.
The bins also come in a recycling version, use less or no plastic liner bags, and have built in covers to keep the weather and animals away.
But we have to be careful: compacting trash may reduce volume (which garbage trucks already do, too), but does not reduce the weight. A pick-up truck can only carry a certain weight, and this design does not effectively discourage the amount of trash being created. I can even imagine a scenario where statistics of lower volume of trash at landfills are incorrectly touted to create the illusion of a successful and ‘complete’ reduction in the amount of trash produced.
And finally, this may be the perfect example of the need for better education and advertising: after seeing these bins multiple times, I could never figure out what went into them (I actually thought they were for composting…but that’s a topic for another post) as they are relatively new—the first few were placed in Union Square in 2009—and lacked any instructions. Generally, know that unless there is a specifically shaped slot or label, any items for regular bins are equally welcomed by the Big Belly Solar compactor.
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