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New Solar-Powered Trash Cans Line the Streets of Philadelphia


The city of brotherly love is now the city of brotherly BigBellies. While it’s not the first city to adopt BigBelly Solar’s cordless trash compaction system, Philadelphia’s installment of 500 new solar trash compactors represents the most “comprehensive” program seen thus far.

BigBelly Solar, originally the Seahorse Power Company, has also found homes for its 32-lb trash compactors in cities throughout 40 different states, like Boston, Chicago, and LA, as well as 20 countries worldwide.

Despite the joy of a World Series title, the Philly sits atop a $1.4 billion, five-year budget deficit. A solar-powered waste basket wouldn’t appear to be the obvious solution to the city’s financial woes, but by replacing 700 standard receptacles with the solar compactors, dubbed “eco-stations,” the city will save a tidy $875,000 per year.

The new “cans” definitely ramp up the green-friendly image of the city, but the true benefits come from reductions in the frequency of trash collection, decreased fuel costs, and the increased availability of streets department employees to fill vacancies on the city’s recycling collection task force.

In fact, the sun-loving trash smashers can hold about 150-200 gallons of refuse and only need to be emptied 5 times per week. This is a dramatic improvement compared to its traditional cousin, whose capacity tends to max at 55-lbs AND must be collected about 19 times each week.

For those who have seen the comedy TV show, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” but have never been to the historic city, it might be a surprise to find out it’s definitely not always sunny. But even when the sun’s not shining, the 100% solar-powered BigBellies, which don’t require direct light, will still function optimally.

The technology also self-monitors by way of an electron beam which is broken when trash fills too high, setting off the compaction motor. Once the smashed trash builds up, the light on the front of the apparatus changes from green to yellow. Philadelphia has set up a wireless monitoring system that alerts city collectors that the light has changed and its time for service.

The compactors, which initially cost the city nothing thanks to a $2.2 million state recycling grant, are projected to save $12.9 million over the next decade. To add to the green appeal, 210 of the compactors will be coupled with recycling bins in an effort to advance Philly’s Greenworks plan, which aims to increase the recycling rate to 70% by 2015.

Complaints about the new solar technology focus on the two hands required to open the door and deposit trash. Some lament the challenge presented to busy Philadelphians with too much to carry to spare a hand to throw out their trash while others have hygienic concerns stemming from the need to physically touch the BigBelly.

Undoubtedly, there will be a small adjustment period as Philadelphians mourn the loss of wire-lattice baskets that have typically been more surrounded by trash than full of it. Still, the installment of the BigBelly solar trash compactor signify an important move for a city steeped in our nation’s history into the clean technology world. Ben Franklin would be proud.

Source: USA Today, NBC Philadelphia, BigBelly Solar, Philadelphia Inquirer

Image Credit: Specialkrb at Flickr under a Creative Commons License

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Written By

, a Philadelphia native, writes about cleantech in order to contribute to the discourse on the role of renewables in the world's energy future. When she's not writing, Yael helps organize the annual North American Wine Bloggers' Conference, runs, bikes, hikes, and remains faithfully loyal to her beloved Philadelphia Phillies.


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