Philadelphia's solar-powered trash cans: Great green idea or flawed design?

Fuel-saving trash cans

TreeHugger alumnus Brian Merchant recently wrote about Philadelphia's solar-powered trash cans for Motherboard. It's a very interesting concept: The basic idea is that the trash cans have solar-powered sensors and compactors that keep the trash compressed, only calling out to be emptied via wireless communication when truly full, which results in fewer trips from city employees to empty the bins and thus big fuel savings. They apparently saved the city $900,000 in the first year and reduce the number of times the trash cans need to be emptied from three times a day to three times a week. Impresive!

But there's a "but"...


On a different site that links to this article, I saw some comments by Philly residents which made me think that not everything might be as sunny there as it first seems. The solar-powered trash compactors make a lot of sense in theory, but apparently, they don't always work as intended in practice. Here are a few of the comments from locals:

Living in center city Philadelphia, I can confidently say there are a couple unintended reasons these things may require less emptying: First, they're often so dirty that no one would want to grab the handle and open the door to throw trash in (I avoid them at all costs myself). Who wants to touch a trashcan even when it's clean? Second, if you're willing to grab the trash-encrusted handle and open the door, they're frequently jammed (or locked?) shut. On the few occasions where I was forced to use them because there were no other trashcans in sight, they were difficult or impossible to open.

So what do people do? They throw their trash on the ground, or they find a nearby trashcan that doesn't require contact to use. It's not unusual to see bags of trash sitting by these things with random garbage scattered around or on top of them. --Irregardless

Another one:

I'm in complete agreement. These trash cans are a complete nuisance in the neighborhoods where they have been deployed. This is especially true in the high-traffic neighborhoods.

I lived at 3rd and South for a while both before and after these were deployed. The old cans were emptied once or twice a day by sanitation workers. Very often, those sanitation workers would also pick up trash off the street around the cans. When the Big Belly's were installed, they started coming around every other day or so instead. No one touches these things. People simply throw their trash at them and walk away. I once saw a Big Belly covered by a pile of trash near 5th and South.

I got really good at opening them with the heal of my shoe, or using a napkin. Very often, though, they were either jammed shut or stuffed full.

The city probably could have just stopped collecting trash altogether to achieve the same result and save even more money. --numbsafari

And a last one (but there are more like it):

Fellow Philadelphian here. I agree entirely, these are terribly designed and I hardly ever see anyone use these. The fact that much of Philadelphia is covered with trash is a testament to the fact that these have done very little to alleviate the issue.

The primary issue with these is that they have a user interface that increases the friction and time of throwing things away. Having to walk up and grab the handle (which is usually disgusting), throw in your garbage, and then close it, adds a small, though significant enough amount of time that most people can't be bothered to do it (many Philadelphians just throw garbage on the street). Additionally, it is difficult to throw away larger amounts of trash or loads that would require two hands to dispose of. --zwtaylor

What's your experience?

So I'm curious to know, is this the consensus or are those aberrations? If you live in Philadelphia (or somewhere else where these are used), what do you think?

And if it turns out the design is flawed, maybe there's a way to fix it. What is the door was only closed while it was compacting, and the rest of the time you could throw trash in without having to pull on a handle? Seems like that would address the main issue.

Via Motherboard

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Philadelphia's solar-powered trash cans: Great green idea or flawed design?
Are solar-powered trash cans a fuel-saving, money-saving way to keep the streets clean? Or are they worse than regular trash cans?

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