Solar-powered trash bin: works even in the rain

August 3, 2007

Solar-powered trash bins sound an improbable invention and one is even crunching rubbish in rainy England.

On a recent (wet) holiday to southwest England, I gawped on hearing that the council in Torbay has started testing a U.S. “Big Belly” bin that uses a solar-driven motor to compact rubbish. The idea is that garbage trucks then have to drive round less often, saving work and cutting pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

Residents are “very positive” and the bin is working as hoped. “The weather has made no difference,” according to Laura Balcombe at the council in Torbay, in a region that optimistically calls itself the “English Riviera”.
I got in touch with the manufacturer, Seahorse Power Co. near Boston, Mass., which has produced about 700-800 of the “Big Bellies” — now mashing trash in North America, Australia, the Middle East and in Europe.

“We are trying to use clean solar energy to displace truck trips. The garbage trucks are among the most inefficient trucks on the road,” said Bruce Todtfeld at Seahorse Power.

He reckons a bin, which has a solar panel on the top, can pay back its roughly $4,000 cost within 1-1/2 years in saved truck trips.

And in places such as Chicago, where trash bins often overflow in fine weather when people flock to Lake Michigan, the bins are helping keep the beaches open. Birds often raid spilt trash and their droppings are a main cause of polluting bacteria on beaches.

Todtfeld reckons the bins help raise awareness about the environment.

“People might have seen a solar panel on top of a house but haven’t had any contact with green technology. This is solving a problem they understand, right in front of them.”


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I just wonder what the waste management workers, especially the truck drivers, will do for work now. Are they simply out of a job? I love the idea of helping the problem of trash and pollution, but what about the people whose jobs are being replaced? Also, will there be recycling bins that do the same? (If possible)

Posted by Dionna | Report as abusive

That’s awesome.

Posted by Simmons | Report as abusive

Shouldn’t actually cause layoffs – simply allow sanitation workers (who have plenty to do) to pick up these particular bins less often, reducing truck trips.

And Seahorse has models that have separate recycling and general trash sections. In some places in the U.S. they have put the original “trash only” version next to regular non-motorized bins for newspapers and bottles & cans – which again reduces the need to empty it frequently.

Posted by Seth Kaplan | Report as abusive