Unusual-looking trash cans that use solar power to compact garbage, and sensors to indicate when the cans are full, have been popping up in environmentally-friendly communities for several years and recently made their debut in Milford.

BigBelly solar trash compactors have been at Milford beaches for several months, and they are modernizing the way the city collects trash from its recreational areas.

The Recreation Department bought five of the units at $3,000 each from BigBelly Solar in Newton, Mass.

So far, Milford has only bought the trash cans, not the recycling units.

“They compact the trash and hold three times the amount of a regular 55-gallon trash bin,” said Milford Recreation Director Paul Piscitelli.

Sensors collect data about trash collection, and city departments can access the data by computer to find out when the cans are full.

The department would like to add more units in the future, especially at popular well-used parks, playgrounds and the remaining city beaches.

“We would also like to add the recycling component to the system,” Piscitelli said.

He said the fact that sensors signal when the units need to be emptied creates a more efficient system for collecting the trash.

“The city can be more efficient in the deployment of manpower, reducing the trips necessary to empty the units, therefore lowering associated costs — fuel, repairs, manpower — which will result in overall savings.”

Piscitelli said he learned about the units from seeing them in other cities.

The Recreation Department and the Public Works Department work together to keep the city parks clean.

“While our department schedules the use of facilities, it is the responsibility of the Public Works Department to keep them clean and operational,” Piscitelli said. “The Recreation Department will do whatever we can to assist to Public Works in keeping our facilities clean, safe and enjoyable.”

Some glitches

Public Works Director Chris Saley thinks BigBelly is a great program. However, as various communities around the country have reported in news articles, there are still some kinks to work out.

For example, Saley said sometimes people put liquid into the trash compactor, and that makes emptying the unit a bit of a messy job. There's also the fact that data collection is included with the first year of the program, but after that the city will have to pay to access it, Saley said.

Still, he said he's a fan and thinks those little bumps will get smoothed out over time.

Dave Rainey, sanitation supervisor for the Public Works Department, is a bit less of a fan but thinks the cans have potential.

"It depends on what people put in them," Rainey said. "If they just put in garbage, it could work."

Rainey also said that since the city has only five of the units, emptying them lies outside the public works routine. For example, he said the sensors send a message to the office when the cans are full, but that might happen on a day when crews are not in that area. He thinks it might be better if there were more of the solar-powered units around Milford to really assess their impact.

BigBelly

The BigBelly trash and recycle company was founded in 2003, and since then has found its way into municipalities and college campuses in 45 countries around the world, the company website states.

“Cities were either collecting too often and wasting fuel and labor while creating CO2 emissions or they were not able to keep up with the demands and overflowing trash cans created litter, health and safety issues,” according to the company website.

This isn’t the only “green” project the recreation department has pursued.

Others include computer controlled lighting at the Washington Field and Fowler Field tennis and basketball courts, and the proposed installation of the same lighting system at Eisenhower Park.

“We are also working with Community Development to improve the efficiency of the lighting at all our indoor and outdoor facilities by switching to LED style fixtures and bulbs,” Piscitelli said.

“The BigBelly units are working great,” he added. “Along with improving collection efficiency, they have eliminated unsightly and unhealthy garbage overflow; prevented animals and bees from getting into the garbage; and discouraged illegal dumping.  Additionally, they demonstrate the city’s commitment to sustainability.”