Celebrating a solar-powered trash can

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 20, 2011

By Mark Wineka
GRANITE QUARRY — It’s not often you call a press conference to brag about a trash can, but Granite Quarry celebrated a new solar-powered trash compactor Wednesday at Granite Lake Park.
“We’re very excited about it,” said Beth Calhoun, chairwoman of the town’s Recycling Committee.
She predicted it will keep the park cleaner, besides the side benefits of reducing emissions, labor and fuel costs associated with emptying its contents.
“Aesthetically, it’s neat, too,” said Bob Voelker, another member of the recycling committee.
While the typical garbage can has a 35-gallon capacity, the solar-powered compactor — donated to the town by Waste Management — can hold 180 gallons of refuse before having to be emptied.
Thanks to the compactor, a can has the capacity of five or six, said Stan Joseph, who handles government and community relations for Waste Management’s South Atlantic Area.
Joseph said the completely sealed, galvanized steel unit is rodent-proof and graffiti-resistant. It also offers opportunities on its panels for advertising, which could supply revenue to the town for other “green” efforts, Joseph suggested.
At the top of the can, in front of the solar collection panel, are a series of lights.
A blinking green light means the can has plenty of room to receive more trash. A yellow light warns that only 10 to 15 percent capacity is left. A red light says the compactor is full and should be emptied.
Joseph said the solar-powered trash compactors cost about $4,500 each.
He said his company decided to donate a solar trash compactor to Granite Quarry because of its long partnership with the town. Waste Management collects the town’s garbage on a contract basis.
These kinds of cans have found their greatest use to date in parks, at colleges and in certain urban settings.
Joseph said they are in use at schools such as Wake Forest University and Harvard University. Philadelphia has deployed 500 of the cans in its central city, Joseph added, and has gone from using 17 vehicles to five to seven in their collections in that area.
Philadelphia figures its savings over 10 years will be $10 million, Joseph said.
Dr. John Wear, head of Catawba College’s Center for the Environment, said an important aspect of this kind of can is that it cuts down on fossil fuel consumption by reducing the number of collection trips. And by compacting the trash, it is reducing the bulk that ultimately goes into a landfill.
Overall, it improves air quality, Wear said.
Calhoun said about 11 percent of Granite Quarry residents recycle now, and her committee would like to see that number double and triple in coming years. Joseph said Waste Management offers a recycling kiosk to complement its solar-powered trash compactors.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.