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Big-Bellied Trash Eaters Arrive

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


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 ebrown@bu.edu.


14 Comments on Big-Bellied Trash Eaters Arrive

  • Zvi Bodie on 10.13.2009 at 5:48 am

    Big-Bellied Trash Eaters Arrive

    I loved this feature. It was fun to read and very educational. I would like to see more of this type of article.

  • Anonymous on 10.13.2009 at 5:54 am

    Big Bellies

    Great Idea!Hopefully people will respect the cause with the intention not to steal these Big Bellies for their own use. Is it theft proof? Everday I get alerted to be vigilant of any abnormal activity at BU campuses. BU security is doing the best to prevent any criminal activity. I can’t believe I am posting a comment like this. I am sure your teams already thought of the Big Bellies security.

  • Thierry on 10.13.2009 at 10:56 am

    Great stuff! In addition to the areas mentioned in the article, the bellies have also recently been placed on/near Central Square, Cambridge.

  • Anonymous on 10.13.2009 at 11:07 am

    Must it be big bellies?

    Those of us with big bellies are offended by yet another form of ridicule. Could these new containers not be called Greenhouse Gas Emission-challenged receptacles?

  • Anonymous on 10.13.2009 at 11:13 am

    It’s great that these are being added to campus, but I’d like to see more complete recycling be part of the process (not just cans and bottles at half of the big bellies). Until there is commingled recycling available at all points of trash disposal, people will continue to throw away their recyclables into the trash, and we will be doing the environment a disservice. I realize that picking up recyclables can mitigate the benefits of the big belly, but the amount of recyclable waste that’s being thrown away on campus is atrocious.

  • R2D2 on 10.13.2009 at 12:25 pm

    Trash cans that send text messages? The future has arrived.

  • Anonymous on 10.13.2009 at 1:20 pm

    This is a great idea! And if BU also installed thermostats in the residences, we can cut fuel use (and cost) even further!

  • Christina on 10.13.2009 at 2:17 pm


    I think Bigbellies are a great idea! Who doesn’t want a greener campus? I began at BU in 2005 and have really seen the campus transform. Good for you BU. I want to see these Bigbellies everywhere!

  • Anonymous on 10.13.2009 at 7:07 pm

    the big belly in front of the GSU has been damaged for over a year due to vandalism. what is the service policy and who is going to do it …or we have large hi tech objects that need to be disposed of themselves?

  • Anonymous on 10.14.2009 at 12:44 am

    Has anyone considered the additional carbon required to make these things?

  • Anonymous on 10.14.2009 at 8:12 pm

    big bellies

    a regular trash can can handle just as much as the big bellis

  • Anonymous on 10.14.2009 at 11:05 pm

    These big belly trash compactors are a great idea but they have one major design flaw – you have to open the receptacle to throw things inside. I know from experience that I often don’t have a free hand to grab the handle and throw something away while I’m walking down the street. Furthermore, the handles are often disgusting from all the stuff that gets spilled on them creating a sanitation issue. They need to design these with an open top for them to be more practical.

  • Anonymous on 10.19.2009 at 12:42 pm

    big bellies

    …what we don’t wasn’t is items that can be recycled going into the big bellies… this is why it is crucial to have as many paper and plastic containers as well nearby and prominent.

  • Anonymous on 10.27.2009 at 9:03 am

    I agree, the recycling effort on campus is pitiful; having a few recycling bins sprinkled around campus just means that plastic gets thrown away in the garbage, very few people hang onto an empty Starbucks drink just so they can recycle it. Also, giving student recycling bags in the dorms doesn’t mean they’ll recycle either…if it isn’t 100% convenient, 90% of people won’t do it.

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