"Solar compactor trash cans saving Salem money, time"
Courtesy, StatesmanJournal.com. According to the Statesman Journal, in the past year, the Salem parks department crew has gone to parks to empty trash cans 312 fewer times.
BY: Beth Casper
Emptying trash cans in Salem’s parks is toilsome, never-ending work. Especially in the summer, there always are cans needing to be emptied, many of them overflowing with garbage.
But the addition of 33 Big Belly solar compactor trash cans is reducing the workload so much that the city of Salem is saving money.
Big Belly trash compactors hold four times as much trash as one garbage can. That means parks staff doesn’t need to empty them as often.
In the past year, the Salem parks department crew has gone to parks to empty trash cans 312 fewer times. They’ve driven 2,362 fewer miles and saved 276 gallons of gas, said Jude Geist, parks operations supervisor.
“We placed them in places where we thought we’d get the best return,” Geist said. “They are easily moved if it is not working out. The idea is to minimize trips.”
Compacting trash, usually done in garbage trucks or at a landfill or recycling center, is done in the Big Belly trash cans. The compactors run off energy from the sun. A solar panel on the top generates enough power to compact the garbage.
The cans cost between $3,700 and $4,200 each. The city used stimulus funds — part of the energy efficiency conservation block grant — for the Big Belly cans. The total cost for the cans and installation was $137,000.
Twenty cans are equipped with a wireless monitoring system that sends a signal to the city when the can is full. Geist grouped these “smart” cans with the regular cans with the idea that if one is full, the rest likely are too. At Riverfront Park, for example, only one of the five solar compactors is a “smart” can.
The wireless program costs $95 per can per year, paid for by the grant for the first year. Now that the city has the data on how quickly the cans fill, the city has not renewed the annual wireless contract and does not plan to in the future, Geist said.
The cans have been installed in 12 Salem parks, but choosing the best parks and locations within those parks for the Big Belly machines isn’t easy. Geist has to consider the location of the park, how often the parks crew is in the park for other maintenance, how quickly the trash cans fill and even what kind of trash is thrown away at that park.
At West Salem High School Park, Geist chose to replace two trash cans with one Big Belly solar compactor because the park is isolated and a long drive for the maintenance crew. Instead of emptying cans three times per week there, which is what the city did last summer, the crew only empties the compactor once per week this summer.
Geist has learned that near pavilions, people tend to throw away heavy garbage, such as watermelon rinds, and the trash compactor can’t reduce the volume and then the bags are too heavy for a worker to pick up. Lightweight trash is perfect for a trash compactor.
On the Union Street railroad bridge path near Wallace Road, the parks crew noticed that the trash bag was always completely full but didn’t weigh anything — the main trash came from fast-food joints. Replacing the can with a Big Belly solar compactor will reduce their trips to that location significantly.
“With recent reductions, we are short three parks maintenance operators and one weekend duty project leader, which is 20 percent of our full-time staff,” Geist said. “So if you can make fewer trips, you can spread hours out.”
The Big Belly company has sold well over 10,000 solar compactors, said Matt Volpi, director of product marketing at Big Belly.
“A lot of different customers have used stimulus funds for the initial purchase (of Big Belly solar compactors),” Volpi said. “Then they see the money they have saved and then they find other funding sources to purchase more.”
The use of stimulus funds for this project certainly was cost-effective for the city, Geist said, but it remains to be seen if the reduced number of trips and gasoline savings is worth the $4,000 price tag. Geist said he will review the results at the end of next year.
Next year promises to save even more money because not all the cans were installed for the entire previous year — it took from May until November to get all 33 solar compactors installed.