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Solar-powered Bigbelly trash cans aim for more efficient trash collection

A student slowly approaches a flashing industrial bin, suddenly unsure of the mundane process of throwing out his gum wrapper. 

This is not your father’s trash can.

UNC Grounds Services has initiated a pilot program to install solar-powered, compacting trash cans and recycling bins on campus.

There are currently two Bigbelly trash cans by the Pit, two by Wilson Library and two by the UNC School of Medicine, as these are the areas that receive the most trash, Grounds Supervisor Mark Moon said.

The Bigbelly cans, installed Oct. 7, aim to increase efficiency in trash collection, Moon said. Since the cans automatically compact trash and recycling until they are completely full, they will allow waste to be collected less often and potentially save money.

“I have one person spending two to three hours checking on the 39 trash cans and 31 recycling bins around Polk Place,” Moon said. “This will hopefully cut it down to checking maybe once or twice a week or longer.”

Moon said he was not sure how much the Bigbelly system cost, and Bridget Baucom, director of Grounds Services, would not comment on the cans' cost.

Each Bigbelly station automatically sends Grounds Services a daily email with the status of the cans, which is also reflected by a blinking light at the top of each can.

“Green, the can is OK, yellow, getting close and red needs to be emptied,” Moon said. “Right now the station in the Pit has the most activity, only because of where it is.”

Grounds Services will evaluate the efficiency of the cans after six months to a year to determine if more should be installed throughout campus.

“If the University would want to save money, I think it’s a great idea,” said junior math major David Culhane. “I’m all for it. It seems nifty.”

Moon had seen the Bigbelly trash cans throughout Raleigh and noticed it as a trend at other universities, including Duke University and the University of South Carolina. Bigbelly has cans across the nation from Times Square in New York to terminals at the port of Los Angeles.

Along with enhancing efficiency and sustainability, Moon said he expects the cans to be more sanitary.

“Hopefully the cans will be cleaner, so we’ll have less squirrels and bees getting inside them,” Moon said.

However, some students have expressed concern about the cans’ modern aesthetic.

“I’ve been seeing them everywhere, and it’s freaking me out,” said senior nursing major Chelsea Krivanek. “It’s a positive freakout because they’re making changes on recycling. They’re just not as pretty. They don’t fit in with the classic look of campus.”

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