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Big Belly Solar Compactors Crunch Downtown Trash

Bloomington used federal stimulus funds to buy 10 new solar compactors for the downtown area. The machines will save the money fuel costs for trash trucks.

  • Big Belly Solar Compactor

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    Photo: Jessica Gall

    This Big Belly solar compactor sits on the sidewalk off of Walnut Ave., on the east side of the courthouse.

  • Big Belly solar compactor 1

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    Photo: Jessica Gall

    The city of Bloomington's Sanitation Department recently installed 10 Big Belly brand solar compactors around the downtown area. The machines use solar energy to compact trash, meaning sanitation workers don't have to empty them as often as traditional trash cans.

  • Blinking lights on the solar compactor

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    Photo: Jessica Gall

    The blinking lights on the Big Belly solar compactor indicate how full it is. Green means there is room for more trash, yellow indicates the machine is almost full, and red means it needs to be emptied.

  • Man using the Big Belly Solar Compactor

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    Photo: Jessica Gall

    They have been installed for less than a week, but the Big Belly solar compactors have already been put to good use.

  • solar panels

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    Photo: Jessica Gall

    The solar panels on top of the Big Belly solar compactor do not have to receive direct sunlight to absorb energy. They just have to be exposed to the sky for most of the day.

Bloomington sanitation workers had to empty the trashcans in front of Starbucks every single morning or the sidewalk would fill with litter by the afternoon. But, that was before the Big Belly solar compactor came to town.

Shelby Walker is the sanitation director for the city of Bloomington, and he says his department and locals are pleased with the performance of the machines so far.

“The Big Belly solar unit collects its energy through the top here, through the solar panel, then you put your trash in the front here. When the trash reaches a certain level inside, the compacter runs and compacts the trash into a receptacle in the bottom,“ Shelby explains.

Thanks to the 10 solar compactors around downtown, the city only has to bring it’s diesel trucks to the Starbuck’s storefront on Indiana Ave. every other day or so. Bloomington used federal stimulus money to purchase its first batch of the $4,000 machines.

Walker says in the long run the compactors will save money since city trash trucks, which only get 2.5 gallons per mile, won’t be making as many pickup runs.

“It’s certainly a green unit. When you consider what Big Belly does – she’s solar-operated, requires no other electricity than what it’s receiving from the sun, which there’s plenty of, and then, again, it lessens our carbon footprint, lessens our need to be downtown, it lessens the noise downtown, so it’s certainly a green solution to our trash concerns.”

The machines should last at least five years, but maybe up to 10 or more, according to Walker. He also hopes the city will be able to purchase more Big Belly solar compactors as funds become available.

Jessica Gall Myrick

Originally from West Lafeytte, Ind., Jessica Gall Myrick moved to Bloomington in 2002 to run cross country and track for the IU Hoosiers and never left. She has a Bachelor's degree in Political Science and a Master's in Journalism from Indiana University.

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