Benefits from new solar-powered trash bins in Jupiter already having effect across Florida

JUPITER, Fla. — Collect, crunch, call.

That's the job of the high-tech trash bin perched on State Road A1A at Marcinski Road.

The new solar-powered container has a sensor that turns on the compactor when the bin is close to full. When the chest-high barrel is finally full of compacted trash, it emails the trash collection department for a pickup.

Regular trash containers in public places must be picked up between three and five times a week. They often overflow, scattering aluminum cans and food containers down the sidewalk, said Jeff Sabin, a government affairs manager for Waste Management.

The new green containers are covered, and because of the compacting, pickups are required less often, he said.

"We're reducing the carbon footprint," Sabin said.

Waste Management's contract with Jupiter to collect residential and commercial trash includes public areas such as the beach on A1A. Fewer collections save the company money, Sabin said.

Delray Beach has its own trash collection service. The city negotiated with Waste Management in April for four containers and will get six more in the next month. The city also plans on buying three more, bringing the total to 13. They will be placed on the beach, Atlantic Avenue and in public parks, said Rich Reade, the city's sustainability officer.

Open containers have to picked up on a daily basis. The new ones only have to be picked up twice a month, Reade said.

"(Delray Beach) will save about $15,000 a year. That's a return on our investment in about four years," Reade said.

The 300-pound boxes, made by Newton,Mass.-based Big Belly Solar, cost about $3,800. One side is for recycling, the other side for trash.

The solar panel on the top powers a 12-volt battery. When the trash compactor turns on, which can be as often as once an hour, it hums like an automatic dishwasher. A cell-phone-like device notifies a website set up for the municipality when the container is full.

"I've noticed much more bottles and plastic cups in the containers. It's been a big boost for recycling," said Jennifer Wilster, environmental communications outreach manager for Melbourne. This city in Brevard County has 15 containers in downtown areas and parks.

The containers are increasingly popular in cash-strapped cities seeking to save money in trash collection. Philadelphia has bought 900 and Chicago about 500. Florida locations using the containers include Hollywood, Fort Lauderdale, Florida Atlantic University and Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, said Matt Volpi, Big Belly's director of product marketing.

"Communities save on gas. Plus, the covered containers keep away seagulls and - in some places around the country - bears," Volpi said.

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