Big Belly Trash Compactors: Q&A with Troy Moon

If you walk along the top of Cutter Street, you may have noticed the old-fashioned trash can has been replaced by a hi-tech dream trash machine. A Big Belly solar compactor, complete with GPS technology and email indicators, is becoming one of the city’s savvy new waste management systems. Units can send emails or texts to drivers cutting down tremendously on the time they need to spend checking on overflow of trash cans. Check out the Q&A below with Troy Moon, Portland’s Environmental Programs and Open Space Manager, for the details on how this all works.

Q: Why did the city decide to go with these new kinds of cans?

A: The Big Belly solar compactors have several advantages over traditional trash cans – they hold more trash than regular trash cans because they compact the waste, they alert us electronically when they get full and they contain the waste so it cannot be strewn around by birds or other scavengers. The relatively small opening discourages dumping of household waste as well.

Q: Where are they so far?

A: The new Big Belly at the top of Cutter Street is the fifth such unit in the City. There are two on Peaks Island and two in Deering Oaks. The remaining unit is likely to go to Bell Buoy Park.

Q: Can you explain how the process works as far as the email notification you receive and also the solar aspect of the containers?

A: The Big Belly containers send status updates to a special website that our collection staff can look at in the morning. The units are located on a map using GPS technology, so we see a red, yellow or green indicator at each Big Belly location. If the unit is red, it needs immediate attention. If it is green, it is not very full. If it is yellow we need to make plans to empty it shortly. The units can also be set up to send a text message or email when they are starting to get full.

Q: How much time will it save the city by having these?

A: As we get more Big Belly units we will see our collection efforts in Parks improve because we will only need to dispatch the garbage truck to units that need service. If we had a full deployment of Big Belly units we would be able to send the truck to empty the ones that needed it instead of having to travel to all of the trash cans in the City to make sure they aren't overflowing. That would leave the driver time to do other duties like picking up litter. Right now we only need to empty the units in Deering Oaks twice per week. We are emptying the Big Belly at the top of Cutter Street daily. It fills up that fast. In the past, the standard trash barrel regularly overflowed by the end of the day. The Big Belly has eliminated that problem.

Q: What are your long-term goals with this initiative?

A: Our long-term goal is to replace all of the traditional trash cans with Big Belly units. We also want to introduce recycling containers into our parks and open spaces. We provide residents the opportunity to recycle at home; we should be providing the same opportunity when they are enjoying our parks.