After you drop your garbage in a public trash can, it’s usually picked up by a garbage truck that gets less than three miles per gallon. And most times, the trash cans are not even full.

PhotoPhiladelphia is trying to cut its carbon pollution and cut costs too. When the Streets Department realized its garbage collection methods were, well, wasteful, the city called in … Bigbelly.

A Bigbelly garbage can has an automatic trash compactor inside, allowing it to hold five times more waste than a regular can.

And when a Bigbelly can hold no more, it transmits a wireless signal to the garbage collectors, telling them it’s time to make a pick-up. What’s more, all the power needed for Bigbelly to compact trash and communicate comes from solar panels on the top.

Philadelphia has installed a thousand Bigbelly trash cans, and the savings have been nothing short of spectacular.

Carlton: “We went from seventeen times a week in the Center City downtown area to only needing three collections per week.”

That’s Donald Carlton, Deputy Commissioner of Philadelphia’s Streets Department. He says his department has saved millions of dollars and dramatically reduced its emissions. Now in more than 1,500 cities, Bigbellies prove that even trash cans can be smart.

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media.
Photo: A “Bigbelly” solar compactor (source: Wikimedia).

More Resources
Big Belly Solar website
Worldwatch Institute: Climate and Energy
U.S. Energy Information Administration: Solar Energy Explained
Energy Information Administration, Analysis & Projections
Solar Energy Industries Association
Center for Climate and Energy Solutions

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Bud Ward

Bud Ward was editor of Yale Climate Connections from 2007-2022. He started his environmental journalism career in 1974. He later served as assistant director of the U.S. Congress's National Commission...