Big-Bellied Trash Eaters Arrive

These guys are solar-powered, and should reduce carbon footprint

By Edward A. Brown

Navigate through the graphic above to learn how BigBelly solar compactors save fuel and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

When most of us think of a big-bellied trash compactor, it’s usually a brother or uncle who always seems to find space for the last slice of pizza on the table — even if three bites are gone and it’s resting in a soggy heap.

But the BigBellies showing up around campus over the next couple weeks are more robot than human. And unlike that male relative, they’re environmentally conscious. Operating on solar power, the new waste receptacles periodically compact trash, creating space for more. Once full, they send a text message alert to the company responsible for pickup, compacting multiple trips as well as the garbage, thereby saving fuel. What’s more, the collection company can view a digital map indicating which bins around campus are ready to be picked up, and plan the least wasteful route.

“We think these will reduce our carbon footprint substantially,” says Dennis Carlberg, the University’s director of sustainability. “Theoretically, we can reduce that by 80 percent.”

As a part of a pilot program, 20 of the receptacles are arriving; 10 will be accompanied by a recycling container for bottles and cans, which does not use the compacting technology. Each BigBelly compactor is estimated to have five times the capacity of a regular dumpster with similar dimensions.

The BigBellies are cutting edge, but no longer experimental. For the past year and a half, three have been in use on campus, although those were not equipped with the text message alert feature. Carlberg says his office wanted to make sure the compactors worked as advertised before investing in more and that he is satisfied. BigBellies are also gobbling up garbage in other locales around Boston and Somerville.

Edward A. Brown can be reached at

This article first appeared in BU Today on October 13, 2009.

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