An appetite for trash. The Big Belly solar-powered trash compactor reduces volume, knows when it’s full, and requests its own pickups. Credit: Mike Cohea/Brown University
across the College Green or stand outside the Sharpe Refectory, and you
may notice a squat, silver container with a solar panel on top that
bears a faint resemblance to the lovable Star Wars character R2-D2.
actually a special trash can created by a company called BigBelly
Solar. Supporters say the containers handle garbage more efficiently by
periodically compacting the trash inside, creating space for more
garbage. That’s especially important in high-traffic areas like the
Ratty, where warmer weather will mean more people eating lunch outside.
The Big Belly is also outfitted with sensors connected to a computer
server that can call for trash pickup when the unit is full.
has purchased three Big Bellies and may buy as many as 20 more to
spread around campus, according to Ginger Gritzo, energy and
environmental programs coordinator in Facilities Management. “Once we
saw for ourselves that the unit really was saving fuel and time, we
developed a campuswide implementation plan,” Gritzo wrote in an email.
Morrell, a senior concentrating in environmental studies, has been
involved in the project since her freshman year. She joined Gritzo at
Facilities Management in spring 2008 as a student recycling coordinator
after answering a job listing. Soon they were talking trash and looking
at the possibilities of economizing on garbage disposal. “Ginger and I
get excited about trash cans, but others don’t,” said Morrell.
pair liked what they saw in Big Belly, but the technology seemed
unproven, Gritzo said, and the idea stood idle. Then in 2009 before
classes started in the fall, Beppie Huidekoper, executive vice president
for finance and administration, spied the solar-fueled trash cans while
on a trip in Ireland. She reported her finding to Facilities
Management, and last spring, Big Belly made its première outside the
Ratty. Brown is currently the only school in Rhode Island with these
receptacles, although the City of Providence has some at Kennedy Plaza.
space-age trash can instantly became a curiosity on campus. “The thing
you hear most often is (students) wonder what it is, why it looks like
that,” Morrell said. “It’s an interest generator.”
cans are something that are so commonplace,” she continued. “People
don’t often think about them as (generating) a carbon footprint. I think
rethinking that is great.”
credited Morrell with getting students interested in garbage disposal
(a naming campaign for the big Bellies begins this month as part of
“Recyclemania”) and other environmental initiatives on campus.
she started working for me we had a small handful of volunteers, and
she was our only paid intern,” Gritzo recalled. “Thanks to the success
of some of our programs, we now have four paid interns and over 200
have been some glitches with the Big Bellies. Not only are some
students confused about what they are, Morrell said, but the receptacles
lock when they’re compacting trash, so some students leave their refuse
on top, blocking the solar panels. “There’s a little bit of a learning
curve,” Morrell said.
she and Gritzo said the Big Bellies have gotten a lot of use and are
justifying their $5,000 price. They also fit in well with Brown’s vision
of adopting more sustainable practices.
feel people feel really good when they’re doing good things. That’s the
same with the trash compactor,” Morrell said. “You feel good about
participating in it, about being part of positive change.”