The Other Side of Solar Trash Cans

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.

Comments (3)

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  1. Frank says:

    Very interesting. It seems that people tend to ignore some of the consequences of new policy and procedures when they invoke “environmentally-friendly” technologies.

    However, I’d like to see a more thorough analysis about the actual cost and benefits of solar trashcans.

  2. Seattle disgust says:

    King County Metro installed solar trash cans as part of their energy program. This was a mandate by self professed energy czar Larry Phillips and his cronies at Metro.
    Besides all of the issues stated in the article, Metro’s budgets as we know are reported to be in deficit. Purchasing Big Belly Trash cans at $5K a piece is just another example of government incompetence and waste.
    In Metro’s case, cleaning crews are on a regular cleaning schedule and empty the trash cans with the same regularity as before. Longer cleaning times actually have increased maintenance costs.
    With respect to energy, the typical $100 can uses no energy, so paying $5K per can is ludicrous and saves no energy.
    The entire concept of solar trash cans lacks an understanding of energy and maintenance costs associated with their use and in Metro’s case, and is a non-essential cost during alleged budget shortfalls.

    • Lloyd Bentsen says:

      Good background info on King County. Seems like an easy thing for so many to buy into the solar trend or anything that supposedly combats climate change/global warming and specifically human emissions. I kept seeing that in places promoting Big Belly Trash cans.