Newport Life Magazine: Crunch Time

Solar Compactors Eat Five Times More Trash

Newport, RI – As you toss your empty coffee cup and continue down Thames Street, the trash receptacle’s internal “eye” opens, scans what you discarded and reports back to its internal Command Center. By the time you’ve reached the next shop window, the BigBelly Solar Compactor has measured its fullness and either triggered automatic compaction or alerted the city’s garbage contractor, Waste Management, to pick up. Its solar panel draws energy from natural light, transfers it to the battery and keeps the trash in check. The mailbox-sized unit is responsible for cleaner streets, less trash truck traffic and reduced emissions downtown. Now collecting about twice weekly instead of twice daily, Waste Management Route Manager John Carney says, “We’re definitely reducing our downtown carbon footprint and ‘nuisance’ footprint too. We’re saving quite a few traffic jams on Thames!” Collection is further reduced to once a week or bi-weekly during off-season.

Carney receives real-time data from the compactors, found in Washington Square and Eisenhower Park, and continuing the length of Thames to the intersection at Wellington Avenue. The map on his computer screen shows GPS coordinates that mark the 25 units put in place in September 2011. The color signals are that of a traffic light. A red dot means the BigBelly has compacted 150 gallons of trash and your cup put it over the edge. Green means ready and waiting. Waste Management handles collection on an as-needed basis, reducing collection frequency up to 80 percent. “If it’s a busy summer weekend and five units are yellow, they’ll be emptied,” says Kristin Littlefield, City of Newport’s Clean City Program Coordinator. “But on a Monday, they’ll be monitored instead of sending a truck right away.”

Each solar-powered compactor can operate for eight years on the energy it takes to drive a garbage truck one mile, and consumes five times more trash than the metal barrel it replaced. You may have used one at Fenway Park or downtown Providence. They’re worth the price tag, but didn’t cost taxpayers a dime, as part of a Waste Management contract renewal. “The units replaced 50 metal barrels, and the savings on collection costs allowed them to sponsor the compactors in full,” explains Littlefield. Waste Management also saves 21 gallons of fuel and 10 hours of manpower each week.

With a long list of positives, the City looks to replace its 200 barrels in time. For now, existing units are reducing waste volume and energy use. You’re helping to streamline waste collection, one freshly crunched coffee cup at a time.

Download or print a PDF of this article (by Kate Miosky)