Do solar trash cans save time and money?
Solar trash cans are popping up all over some of America’s largest cities. Their popularity with local governments has turned it into the latest fad as it seeks to combine waste and recycling with energy conservation and carbon emission reductions. Some city leaders are claiming the solar trash cans, like the ones from BigBelly, are saving the cities millions.
However, a 2010 report from the Philadelphia Controller Allan Butkovitz claims that the $4,000 solar trash cans are wasteful and unkempt:
- Pictures of trash cans with overflowing garbage
- Trash cans still sitting in in warehouses long after purchase
- Trash cans lacked damage and repair warranties from the manufacturer
- Crews said they were not trained to operate and care for the new machines, which replaced $100 wire baskets
- Crews did not have operating manuals or tools and were not performing the recommended maintenance
- The night trash collection crews did not have access to the system that wirelessly reports when each trash can is full and serviced trash cans anyway
- Daytime crews that responded to trash can full alerts said the alerts are often wrong and hours old
- Clouded solar panel covers
- Malfunctioning alerts
- Physical damage
During a two-month observation, crews collected trash from Big Bellies 10 times a week on average, more than double the anticipated frequency. Moreover, it takes more time to empty the machine compared to the old-style baskets. The solar trash cans have also invited more graffiti, meaning a burden on the city to clean it up. Altogether, the extra time and costs associated with having solar trash cans were not factored into the overall savings.
Just from this one report, there is a good chance that the cities that have introduced solar trash cans may actually be exaggerating the benefits. Those cities should rethink their plans to waste more money on these trash cans and other cities that are thinking about making this change should also reconsider.