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Futuristic Trash Cans Arrive in the Loop

BigBelly solar compactor. Photo by Valerie Fanelli.

New garbage stations will save the 2nd Ward thousands of dollars a year after installation, said Richard Kennelly, vice president of marketing for BigBelly Solar, the company which provided the new trash stations.

The city finished installing about 336 new trash containers in the downtown area that replaced the older trash cans, said Kennelly.

The new BigBelly containers are green, rectangular cans with a pull-open door, which must be grabbed to deposit trash. On the sides there are places for advertisements. The can is divided in two parts, one for general waste and one for recycle.

“The idea is not just a trash can,” Kennelly said. “Our system, instead of guessing, knows exactly when it’s time to collect the trash.”

Kennelly said the new stations represent a waste collection revolution because they work with a system that connects each one of them to a central computer that sends a signal when the trash can is full. The cans work with solar power.

“Before BigBelly, the trash was collected with routine,” he said. “[The trash collectors] didn’t know when it was full or empty.

Trash management can send trucks to collect the waste only when the cans become completely full.

“Each station knows the last time the trash was collected,” Kennelly said.

The city of Chicago signed a contract  March 2011 during Richard M. Daley’s administration for about 1,600 BigBelly stations, but finished the installation of  336 cans as of December. Kennelly said the company will send the rest of the stations whenever the city is ready to install them.

Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) said the mayor signed the contract for BigBelly without consulting the alderman.

“This theoretically can be a great idea, but the aspect that the mayor gets to the ward whatever should be subject of review by the city council.”

Fioretti said he did not have any review on the new trash cans. The mayor made the decision for the cans without consulting with him, even if the new trash cans were a way to improve the 2nd Ward, he said.

He said he doesn’t oppose the concept of the solar trash cans because, “you can find out if they are filled.”

However,  the recycle part of the new trash can that’s supposed to send data about the station’s filling is not working right now, Fioretti said.

Kennelly said the new trash collection system is in Philadelphia, Boston, Seattle, Portland, San Antonio, Houston and other 30 other countries.

According to data provided by Kennelly, the city of Chicago should save about $672.000 with the new trash cans.


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