Turning Green

Compactor and baler users now have options that are designed to be environmentally friendlier.

The Illinois Army National Guard training center in Marseilles, Ill., just bought a solar-powered trash compactor, and David Miller, the center's solid waste and recycling coordinator, wants to buy another half dozen units for other National Guard locations in the state. “The solar-power capability provides us a great deal of flexibility in how we use the compactors and where we can place them,” Miller says.

Joe Dinoto Jr., the owner/operator of the Chick-Fil-A restaurant at Arundel Mills in Hanover, Md., also has purchased a solar-powered compactor. “By choosing the solar model, I avoided the expense of installing three-phase power in the garbage corral,” he says.

Both Dinoto and Miller previously were using roll-off containers to store their waste, and both have seen significant declines in weekly trash pickup charges since installing the compactors. Dinoto figures his Vert-I-Pack from Vernon, Ala.-based Marathon Equipment Co. has cut his trash pickup costs in half. Miller says his RJ-225 stationary unit from the same manufacturer has cut pickup expenses along with his electric bills, while increasing the amount of commodities collected on the base and sold to recyclers.

The solar-powered devices are part of a new push on the part of compactor and baler manufacturers to develop green products. Other environmentally friendly products include balers that use biodegradable oil, which is easier to dispose of and requires no remediation if it spills.

Cost Considerations

Manufacturers also hope that greener equipment will help take some of the sting out of price increases tied to surging steel and fuel costs. Since 2004, the price of steel has almost quadrupled, and, as a result, the price of compactors has risen from approximately $14,000 in 2003 to around $24,000 today, industry observers say. In May, most compactor and baler manufacturers added significant new surcharges to prices in response to another round of steel price hikes.

“Everything we make is made of steel,” says Bill Wilkerson, vice president of sales and marketing for Marathon. “When steel prices go up, our costs increase as well.”

Solar-powered compactors, whose other known manufacturers include Philadelphia-based PTR, can cut costs for buyers by eliminating the expense of installing three-phase power at the site where the device will be used. Solar power also enables users to place the equipment virtually anywhere they want and reduce electricity bills, albeit modestly.

Depending on the state in which the equipment is purchased, customers also may qualify for state tax credits based on Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) ratings. LEED is a program developed by the Washington-based U.S. Green Building Council to rate the green quality of buildings. The allure of solar-powered compactors is that building systems employing alternative sources of energy can help raise LEED ratings to levels required by tax-credit legislation.

Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, Oregon and Pennsylvania offer LEED-based tax credits. Meanwhile, New York has set up a system similar to LEED that also offers tax credits.

Furthermore, a number of states have enacted or introduced legislation requiring state buildings to meet LEED standards, opening potential markets for waste management equipment designed to be environmentally friendly. These states include Arizona, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio and Washington.

Biodegradable Oil, Submerged Motors

John Browning, a division manager in the Industrial Equipment Service Center of Cincinnati-based Rumpke Consolidated Cos., sees environmental benefits for end users in the greening of compactors and balers. Rumpke currently is testing a vertical baler made by Cleveland-based Wastequip at a food processing facility in Cincinnati. “To meet the food service building code, the machine uses biodegradable oil, and we also wrapped the hoses with a special material to ensure against leaks,” he says.

Wastequip is seeking to improve manufacturing efficiency and streamline services to contain costs and to hold down price increases. “We believe we must totally embrace environmental leadership and efficiencies across all aspects of our operations,” said Bob Rasmussen, Wastequip president and CEO, in a prepared statement. The company will seek to reduce its energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions, and increase recycling activities.

Rumpke also is developing a program to sell solar-powered Marathon compactors to colleges and universities. The idea is to place the equipment at locations that do not have access to three-phase electrical power. “We have ordered our first machine for a university customer,” Browning says. “The solid waste manager wants to try it, and if it works, he will install a number of units around campus. For now, the plan is to compact cardboard for recycling. We'll service the machines with a front-end loader.”

In addition to using biodegradable oil, the unit submerges the pump and motor in the oil supply to reduce power needs.

In the End, It's About the Environment

While manufacturers are promoting the cost benefits of green compactors and balers to customers, Paul DeBlasi, director of municipal marketing and strategic management with All Service, a division of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Republic Services, says he doubts that most customers make changes based on the cost benefits of greener compactor and baler designs.

“What customers really want are the environmental benefits,” he says. “Most of our customers are looking into biodegradable oil — which costs more than regular oil. Some of our customers are using solar panels, which don't save that much on electricity. Customers start out thinking they might save a little bit of money, but they make buying decisions based on the environmental benefits produced by the equipment.”

Michael Fickes is a Cockeysville, Md.-based contributing writer.


Chicago's Streets and Sanitation Department has been testing five trash cans containing built-in solar-powered compactors for more than two years. Called BigBellies, the cans are in high pedestrian traffic areas in the city's central business district.

Thanks to the built-in compactor, the cans hold three or four times the amount of waste as conventional municipal trash cans. “We have to empty [the device] once over the same time period that we would have to empty a conventional refuse container three times,” says Matt Smith, a spokesperson for the Streets and Sanitation Department. “When we reduce the amount of times a refuse truck services a trash receptacle, we are helping the environment, especially by reducing harmful emissions.”

While Smith likes the way BigBellies perform, he doesn't like the cost: about $4,300 each. “They are great, but expensive,” he says. “That is the one factor that will keep us from rolling them out on a wider basis any time soon.”

Boston bought 50 of the devices, which are manufactured by Needham, Mass.-based BigBelly Solar, two years ago and is now rolling them out citywide. He says he is relying on increases in productivity fueled by the BigBellies to cover the costs. In April of 2005, Queens, N.Y., installed 50 of the units as part of an environmental pilot project to improve air quality. The pilot yielded a 70 percent reduction in pick-ups, according to a study by the New York City Department of Sanitation.

Following a successful pilot test, the Cincinnati Park system plans to install 150 BigBellies, which will enable the park system to eliminate one of its two garbage trucks. Park officials say the savings in fuel, maintenance and labor costs will pay for the units in three years. After five years, they estimate that they will have saved $178,000 and 7,750 gallons of diesel fuel, while eliminating 86 tons of carbon dioxide emissions.