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BigBelly Solar trash compactor gets sleeker and smarter

Latest version of 30-watt solar-powered trash crusher, found in several cities, fits in better. And future versions are set to get remote communications.

The BigBelly solar-powered trash can has gotten a makeover.

The latest version of the BigBelly Solar garbage compactor will fit in better on city streets, all while flaunting its green credentials. Future versions will even have the ability to phone home.

BigBelly Solar

The BigBelly uses a 30-watt solar panel on its top to charge a battery that powers a motor to crush garbage.

By compacting trash, city workers need to make fewer trips to empty bins, which reduces congestion and diesel exhaust, according to the company.

The company claims that compacting can eliminate four out of five trips. The savings from less frequent disposals can cover the up-front cost of about $4,000 within a couple of years.

The company has sold about 1,000 units based on its environmental attributes and has generated scads of press with mayors of cities and towns talking up the trash compactors' ecofeatures.

BigBellys are operating in Boston; Queens, New York; Vancouver, British Columbia; and Ventura, Calif., as well as at different universities. Walden Pond in Concord, Mass., has a prominently displayed solar trash can.

The first incarnation of the BigBelly was big and boxy. It looked more like a book deposit box. The look of current edition, first released last fall, is 25 percent smaller, without sacrificing any of the compacting power, according to Bruce Todtfeld, vice president of marketing and product management at BigBelly Solar, which is based in Needham, Mass.

They've also incorporated recycled plastics on the hopper that people pull down before dumping in their trash.

To better protect their solar panels, the company has used hard ABS plastic as a cover, Todtfeld said.

BigBelly Solar

"Not that we want to encourage anyone to do this, but you can take a baseball bat and smash it over the top," he said. "It's the same material they use on hockey rinks."

Todtfeld said the company is looking at adding more intelligence to the BigBelly. In the next few months, it plans to start testing a version with remote communications ability.

"It will provide customers more information about the collection system and make it more efficient," he said.