Sunny Days In NYC

In the battle against bulging bins, Queens, N.Y., is calling in the heavyweights. On Earth Day 2005, the borough announced that it would be rolling out 50 solar-powered, trash-compacting receptacles, known as Big Bellys. The containers, which can hold about 300 gallons of trash, will be placed on street corners and will replace traditional, much smaller trash cans.

Queen officials expect the Big Belly receptacles, which are made by Westborough, Mass.-based Seahorse Power Co., to cut down on diesel-truck pollution by reducing pickups from two to three times daily to once every two or three days. Fewer pickups also should mean a reduction in labor costs.

The Queens Clean Air Project (QCAP), a partnership of governmental agencies and environmental organizations that promotes the use of renewable energy to improve air quality, is spearheading the installation of the containers. The New York Power Authority (NYPA), a QCAP member, picked up the receptacles' $225,000 tab.

“We are getting the technology out of the labs and into communities,” says Glenn Goldstein, program director for the Boston-based Northeast States Center for Clean Air Future (NESCCAF), which launched QCAP with NYPA in 2000. At $4,500 per container, “we're trying to figure out if we can make a business case for using these units,” he says.

The Big Belly operates by using a sensor to detect when the trash has reached a certain level. The sensor then calls on the battery to start the compaction ram's motor. Up to 1,500 pounds of force create an eight-to-one compaction ratio, with the power provided by a photovoltaic cell located on the lid. The containers, which have been tested in Vail, Colo., keep compacting even when the cell is covered with snow. Green, yellow and red lights indicate how soon the trash needs to be picked up.

Over the next few months, the rollout will occur in Queens' Business Improvement Districts, areas that have been experiencing maintenance and air pollution issues. Several containers also are being placed near Queens Borough Hall to garner attention for the technology.

The unveiling of Big Bellys is not the only waste-related air-improvement project occurring in New York. In May, the Bayport, N.Y.-based Clean Air Communities, of which NESCCAF is the parent organization, announced a public-private effort to address the effects of nitrogen oxides (NOx) on ground level ozone pollution. Several groups will be working with Houston-based Waste Management Inc. to install ELIM-NOx, an emissions reduction technology, on the company's refuse collection vehicles in the Brooklyn and Bronx boroughs.