Waste Collection Goes High Tech

By Wes Muir, Director, Communications, Waste Management
The days are longer, kids are out of school and beach season is in full swing: these are clear indicators that summer is upon us and everyone is flocking outdoors. While you’re out and about, packing a picnic lunch or walking around your favorite city, you’re probably also generating trash.
How many times have you wandered down the street or along the beach, wondering where you can pitch that ice cream wrapper? Or maybe when you’ve desperately sought a garbage can for that cup of coffee you drank while walking into work? Unfortunately, most times you’ve probably been unsuccessful in locating said receptacle. Worse yet, as this blogger describes as a pet peeve, you do find a bin, but it’s overflowing and you can’t properly dispose of your piece of trash.

From these scenarios alone, it seems that the issue of littering public spaces remains a significant issue across North America. Matt McKenna, president and CEO of Keep America Beautiful, agrees that trash in public areas is a problem that needs to be solved, and can be through the implementation of better public disposal options:

“Consumers report that convenience and accessibility of public trash and recycling receptacles are a major influence in encouraging them to dispose of waste properly and to recycle more. Providing environmentally responsible options in public spaces can be a valuable tool for communities as they raise awareness of the importance of proper waste disposal.”

Since many public areas fall under local government jurisdictions, it’s up to city officials to take proactive measures to manage trash on the streets or in public parks. So far, many municipalities have found it challenging to solve this issue in an efficient and cost-effective manner. Those who have been successful, however, are seeing numerous benefits through a new technology – solar powered trash compactors – in terms of cutting collection costs and environmental benefits.

The City of Philadelphia is rolling out a new program over the next 10 years, installing new solar-powered trash compactors on sidewalks, providing a cost-effective and simple solution for residents and visitors. Programs like this are popping up all over the country.

Solar powered trash compactors are completely self-powered, using built-in solar panels to compact trash. About the same size as a standard 35-gallon trash barrel, each compactor provides five times the capacity of a traditional trash receptacle. When the unit reaches capacity, sensors trigger an internal compactor that flattens the contents, converting 180 gallons of waste into easy-to-collect bags. A wireless system then signals that the unit is ready to be picked up. This cuts the need for trash pickup by up to 80 percent, which reduces collection costs, fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions. The compactors also include receptacles for collecting plastic bottles, newspapers, glass and other recyclables.

In fact, Waste Management installed 15 of its WM Solar-Powered Trash Compactors at Patriot Place, a retail, dining and event venue adjacent to Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, MA. Brian Earley, general manager of Patriot Place agrees that there are many benefits, in terms of sustainability and cost-effectiveness, to implementing solar-powered trash compactors. “In addition to promoting recycling and reducing our waste volume and energy consumption, we have realized significant operational efficiencies and cost savings for waste removal.”

New York City decided to take matters into its own hands back in 2007, and commissioned a public space recycling pilot program. This targeted heavily traffic streets, parks and transportation facilities where high volumes of recyclable materials, such as paper, plastic and glass, were found in waste bins. Instead of offering only one receptacle for all waste and letting it get to the point of overflow, the city placed recycling bins for these materials next to traditional trash cans at key locations. As reported in the city’s final report, use of the recycling bins clearly increased throughout the duration of the pilot program, proving that if the means to properly dispose of waste are available, people will use them.

As you walk the streets of your city or town, take a close look around. If you’ve been holding onto that coffee cup for more than a few blocks, it’s time to act. Ask your local officials to consider adding solar-powered waste receptacles to the public spaces in your neighborhood.

Wes Muir is Director of Corporate Communications for Waste Management, responsible for external communications and public affairs across North America including the development and management of strategies and programs in support of the company’s renewable energy, recycling and corporate development business groups, corporate branding/reputation and environmental sustainability initiative and media and social media.Prior to Waste Management, Wes was Director of Communications for the International Council on Mining and Metals responsible for the development and management of the global communications strategy in support of the industry’s sustainable development initiatives.Prior to this position, he was Director of Communications and Public Affairs for BHP Billiton Base Metals and its predecessor Rio Algom, an international mining company where he developed and managed the corporate communications and public affairs activities for the company’s domestic and international operations and projects.Wes has also held senior positions with public affairs and communications agencies in Canada and the United States providing communications counsel and support to a wide range of industry sectors including natural resources, environment, energy, financial, health and consumer products and services.

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