Volume 20, Number 50 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | April 27 - May 3, 2011
Trash is going solar
BY Aline Reynolds
Overflowing garbage cans may become a thing of the past in Lower Manhattan.
Solar-powered trash compactors might soon replace Downtown trash cans thanks to Direct Environmental Corp., an environmental distributor leading a Citywide initiative.
The automatic compactors, known as “BigBellies,” can hold the equivalent of at least five standard trash cans — or up to 45 pounds of litter — reduce garbage collections by nearly 80 percent, and operate wirelessly, according to Larry Marcus, sustainability manager at D.E.C.
“We think they should replace the majority of existing trashcans to get the utmost effectiveness from the program. If we can get enough out there, I think the payback would be remarkable,” said Marcus, who presented the program to Community Board 1’s Quality of Life committee at its April 21 meeting.
In early April, the distributor began a pilot program at Thomas Paine Park in Foley Square in conjunction with the New York City Dept. of Health and Mental Hygiene and the Dept. of Parks and Recreation.
The City’s objective in participating in the initiative is to lessen rodent infestations in its parks. “Each compactor… is enclosed so that rats cannot get into it, eliminating a food source,” explained Philip Abramson, a spokesperson for the Dept. of Parks and Recreation.
In addition to being efficient, the units are cost effective, Marcus said. They are valued at $4,000 each, and last about a decade. They are also low maintenance, requiring lubrication only once a year and a new battery once every four years, to function properly.
While a lit cigarette would likely ruin the machine, it wouldn’t catch fire, according to Marcus, since the BigBelly is completely nonflammable.
Members of the Quality of Life committee will be meeting Marcus at Thomas Paine Park in the coming days to witness a demonstration of the unit, which he said operates like a traditional garbage chute.
The committee had a positive first impression of the program. “As long as people use it properly, it sounds like a good unit,” said committee chair Pat Moore. “We at least need to continue the conversation, and then find out directly the pros and cons.”
This isn’t the first time Downtown has seen or used a BigBelly. In late 2009, Direct Environmental Corp. joined forces with the Battery Park City Authority to install a compactor on South End Avenue, which turned out to be a successful, three-week pilot program. The machines are now in widespread use in Philadelphia and Chicago, where there are a total of approximately 2,600 units.
D.E.C. is currently in discussions with the N.Y.C. Dept. of Sanitation about installing the machines in all five boroughs of New York City. “We assume that sanitation will pick up the garbage when it’s left for them,” said Marcus, when and if the program is implemented.
The use of BigBellies, Marcus assured the Quality of Life Committee, wouldn’t lead to layoffs of City sanitation workers, but rather, would “free them up to do other things.”
D.E.C. will be soliciting support for the program from the Downtown Alliance, a business improvement district in Lower Manhattan.