Riverside, Calif., used a portion of its EECBG funds to buy 25 solar-powered trash compactors. | Courtesy of BigBelly Solar

This summer, Riverside, Calif., is harnessing the power of the sun in an effort aimed at slashing waste, costs and greenhouse gases.

The city used $153,040 of its $2,850,600 Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) to buy 25 solar-powered compactors from Waste Management, Inc., a distributor for U.S. manufacturer BigBelly Solar.


Called BigBelly Solar Compactors, these containers have the same blueprint as regular trash cans but do just what their name implies. Their "big bellies" can swallow about 150 gallons of trash and compact the material into a 32-gallon bin, operating entirely on solar energy.



For Riverside, this could translate into big savings as trash collections are expected to be reduced from daily to once a week in most areas, cutting fuel and labor costs. Cindie Perry, Riverside's Public Works Manager, says the compactors will be partnered with recycling units to boost conservation.

"We are in the process of installation currently. We have installed a test unit and it is working well," Perry says. "We expect once all the units are installed we will reduce fuel consumption for our fleet by 1,665 gallons annually."

In addition to conserving fuel, the city predicts the reduced trash collections will save 575 labor hours, which Perry says will be diverted to tasks such as removal of illegal waste and city cleanup. "We also run a lean crew, so the driver would be able to help out other trash drivers if necessary," Perry says.

The city expects to install all compactors and recycling units by August. The total number, however, may not stop at 25. "We absolutely hope to add more," says Perry.

Since the compactors are powered using renewable energy, the carbon footprint of collecting the waste will be cut by 80 percent, according to BigBelly Solar.

1 billion gallons – 1 idea

Richard Kennelly, vice president of marketing for BigBelly Solar, said the idea for the compactors came from inventor Jim Poss, who has been a renewable energy and environmental entrepreneur since college.

"The need was apparent because [Poss] had read that garbage collection trucks use about 1 billion gallons of fuel per year in the U.S," Kennelly says. "By compacting the waste right where you and I dispose of it, that becomes a demand reduction tool to keep the trucks in the garage 80 percent of the time."

BigBelly Solar Compactors are manufactured in Vermont and Kentucky. The company has a number of suppliers throughout the country that support more than 200 jobs, Kennelly says.

He has noticed a positive effect of the EECBG funding, which he says has increased business by enabling cities to purchase the solar compactors quickly. This also supports jobs in the supply chain while cutting operating costs for cities, Kennelly says.

BigBelly Solar first installed a solar compactor in Vail, Colo., in 2004. Since then, the company has worked to improve the collection system and now has solar compactors installed in 46 states and 30 countries.

BigBelly Solar hopes to soon be in all 50 states and looks to offer similar products on an industrial scale. Kennelly says the company is field testing and aims to have the products available by the end of this year.