BigBelly Solar: Bringing Trash Collection under Control
06 Nov, 2009
You’ve probably seen—and sometimes averted your eyes from—the overflowing trash receptacles that appear around public parks, on city streets and in amusement parks. You have perhaps also wondered how much fuel gets wasted by the diesel trucks that must come around to collect trash from these receptacles, and what might be done to reduce the plentiful foul emissions spewing from those vehicles.
In fact, in order to keep trash neatly removed from homes, businesses and public areas, garbage trucks yearly burn about one billion gallons of diesel fuel in the US alone. Because these are constantly stopping, and having to burn extra fuel to run the big compactors they all carry, they generally get only two to three miles to the gallon. For every gallon of fuel burned, approximately 22 pounds of carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere.
Today, a company called BigBelly Solar is changing the concept of waste collection by implementing on-site solar compaction systems. Their vice president for marketing, Richard Kennelly, recently sat down with Organic Connections to tell us more about what his company is doing.
“There are tens of thousands of trash receptacles all around the Los Angeles area, for example,” said Kennelly. “New York City has about twenty thousand on the streets and another twenty thousand in the parks. That’s a lot of trash cans, and it can cost $200 to $400 per can per month to pick up the trash.”
BigBelly Solar has come up with a very unique solution—one which is being quickly adopted by cities, universities, amusement parks and other public places. The BigBelly Solar receptacle is a solar-driven trash compactor, about the same size as a public trash can, and the amount of money it can save on fuel and man-hours is astonishing.
“The cost to purchase a BigBelly isn’t recouped in the price of the receptacle,” Kennelly explained. “It is recouped in the ongoing savings in picking up the trash from that receptacle and taking it somewhere. That’s really the bulk of the cost, even after one year—let alone five or ten years.”
A good example of the savings possible is that of the city of Philadelphia, currently BigBelly Solar’s largest customer. Prior to the city’s involvement with BigBelly Solar, they had seven hundred 35-gallon steel litter baskets throughout Center City, their downtown area. They were spending $2.3 million every year on 17 collections per week for these baskets—2 to 3 collections per day.
“That represented a 70 percent reduction, and the reduction was in trips, in fuel, and emissions. They will be saving $900,000 in the very first year. After 3 years, when the equipment is all paid for, the annual savings will jump up to $1.5 million.”
What makes the solar-powered trash compactor viable is that it is sitting outside all day long, able to collect energy. On a busy day, it might do only 10 or 15 minutes worth of work, so there is a decent ratio of time to gather energy against time spent expending that energy. It is efficient even in places that experience considerably cloudy weather, or in locations that don’t receive direct sunlight.
The compactor is also fitted with a device that sends a message when it is ready to be picked up, so there is no need for a collector to waste a trip just to check.
The BigBelly Solar compactor was the brainchild of environmental entrepreneur Jim Poss, president and CEO of the company, who had previously worked in the solar field and in the design of electric vehicles and renewable-energy devices. The idea for the solar compactor came about as a result of this experience. The compactor actually has a number of the same components as a solar-powered vehicle: a solar panel converts light into electricity that is stored in a battery, and the battery runs an electric motor, which then performs work.
After two years of testing, the first BigBelly Solar commercial units were unveiled on Earth Day 2005 in Queens, New York City. Improvements in the unit since that time have resulted in higher energy efficiency and a smaller size that is still able to process the same amount of garbage.
The company is expanding rapidly. There are now over 3,000 of the devices in use out in the field, in 40 states and 20 countries. In addition to heavily trafficked urban areas, the compactor is also very popular with universities. BigBelly Solar recently obtained Waste Management—the largest refuse services company in the US—as a distribution partner and their compactor can now be bundled in with the full array of Waste Management services.
BigBelly Solar is committed to improving the environment and economies of the world by utilizing efficient approaches to everyday problems, and it’s wonderful to see such technology playing a major role in cleaning up our city streets!
For more information, please visit the BigBelly Solar website at www.bigbellysolar.com.