New Orleans installing solar-powered trash compactors that can hold five times as much trash, alert workers when they're full

Posted on: April 8 2015

By Jaquetta White

New Orleans on Monday began installing solar-powered trash compactors on street corners in the French Quarter and Central Business District, hoping to reduce the frequency of trash collection and cut back on litter.

The city plans to install a total of 246 so-called BigBelly units over the next few months.

The units, which cost about $3,000 each plus $1,000 for the software required to operate them, will replace wrought-iron trash cans at some of the city’s busiest intersections, though not in much of the residential section of the French Quarter.

“We are constantly exploring new, more efficient ways to improve city services and keep our streets and neighborhoods clean,” Mayor Mitch Landrieu said in a statement. “These solar-powered compactors will ensure cleaner streets in high-traffic areas throughout the city, particularly in the French Quarter and Downtown Development District.”

The trash compactors, which are expected to last about 10 years, are being installed by Waste Management of Louisiana as part of a $2 million contract the company signed with the city in December. The contract includes the installation and maintenance of the trash cans as well as operation of a software system tied to the units. The automated cans can alert the Sanitation Department when they are nearly full and need to be emptied.

Solar panels on top of the trash compactors provide the energy needed to compress the contents inside. One BigBelly unit can hold the contents of about five of the trash cans now on the street, Sanitation Director Cynthia Sylvain-Lear said.

The Sanitation Department is planning to install about 20 of the new cans per day. The first batch was put in place along Canal Street on Monday.

Eventually, they will cover major French Quarter and CBD streets including North Peters, Decatur, Chartres, Royal, Bourbon and Poydras. About a dozen each also will be installed along Frenchmen Street and Convention Center Boulevard.

The solar trash cans, which will be bolted to the ground, will replace the iron ones in most cases. The iron cans, which cost about $800 each, will be cleaned, repainted and moved to other locations, Sylvain-Lear said.

New Orleans already has some experience with solar trash cans. The Regional Transit Authority has had 110 of them along its transit lines since 2013.

The city installed two test units, one at Cafe du Monde and one at Canal and Bourbon streets, in 2011. Sylvain-Lear said the city’s pilot program found that trash collections at those sites went from a minimum of 14 times per week to 2.5 times per week.

She said other benefits will include reductions in overflow, litter and odors. Because the units are enclosed, opening and closing in a fashion similar to a Postal Service mailbox, Sylvain-Lear said it also will be more difficult for rodents to climb inside.

The program is starting in the French Quarter and CBD because they are often a challenge to keep clean given the number of residents and tourists frequenting those areas.

“These units will be doing a lot of the work and allow for the collections when the traffic is at a reduced rate,” Sylvain-Lear said.

She said she does not expect the new units to lead to a loss of any jobs in the Sanitation Department.