BigBelly: The Solar Trash Compactor

Reader Contribution by Lindsey Siegele
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It’s no secret that we have a trash problem in the United States. According to the Clean Air Council, the average person in the U.S. throws away 4.39 pounds of trash per day. While landfills are filling up with no end in sight, BigBelly Solar has engineered a way to cut back on trash-collecting trips. The trash may keep coming, but at least these guys are making a dent in the industry’s carbon footprint.

The solution is the BigBelly trash unit. The BigBelly, which is no larger than a typical city trash can, is capable of holding five times as much waste. How does it accomplish this feat? The BigBelly compacts its own trash, meaning that it can keep collecting for far longer than city trash cans. Collectors make trips less often, saving the city money and keeping the air cleaner.

A trash can that compacts its own trash is pretty cool on its own, but BigBelly has other amazing capabilities as well. It is run 100 percent on solar power collected with a solar panel on its top, and it alerts city hall via text message when it’s ready to be emptied. BigBelly’s design keeps out pesky animals such as birds and squirrels that normally congregate around trash sites. The company will even include advertising panels along the unit’s sides upon request.

So is the cost of replacing hundreds of standard trash cans with BigBellys really worth the potential benefits? Cities that are currently using the solar trash compactors — including Philadelphia, Boston, Baltimore and Chicago — say yes. Philadelphia cut trash collection costs by 70 percent — from $2.3 million to $720,000 — when it installed 500 BigBellys and expects to save nearly $13 million over the next 10 years. Read Philadelphia’s case study to learn more about the city’s amazing transformation.

This solar compacting system is one large step toward more responsible trash collection. Now, if Americans begin to cut back on waste, we’ll really have something to smile about.

To learn more about the dangerous cycle of consuming and disposing of material goods in the United States, check out Annie Leonard’s “The Story of Stuff,” a 20-minute web video that spells the problem out so that even your kids will understand.

Lindsey Siegele is the Senior Web Editor at Ogden Publications, the parent company of MOTHER EARTH NEWS. Find her on .

Photo by iStockPhoto/Mike Clarke.

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