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BigBelly Solar at MIT: smart compactors with a green streak

Photo: Jarrod Jones, MIT Department of Facilities

Sure, they may be sun-lovers, but they’re strong and savvy too. They can press five times more than their peers and they work out up to three times an hour. They may not say much, but they’re connected, sending frequent updates about their status over the 'net. Think of them as MIT’s Big Cans on Campus.

These 55-gallon compactors from BigBelly Solar have arrived in a big way. Whether you’re leaving the Student Center, strolling past MIT Sloan, or finishing up at the Forbes Café, look for these compactors nearby — there are or 36 of them across campus. Go on, get close. They’re here for you to use. The ones with the brown fronts are for trash and those with the white fronts are for recyclables. Just follow the labels about what you can toss in.

Each compactor has a solar panel on top that powers a small battery, along with sensors that tell it when to compact its contents. Internal software feeds data to MIT Facilities staff via the web, alerting them when the barrels are full. This feedback drastically reduces the time MIT’s landscape crew spends collecting trash and single-stream recycling, freeing them up for other work.

On the case

While BigBelly Solar trash compactors have been out in the world for a few years — in use in Cambridge, Boston and Philadelphia, among other cities — the single-stream recycling compactors made their debut right here at MIT in 2010.

With MIT Facilities backing this successful launch, BigBelly Solar is now conducting a case study on campus. Once it’s completed, the company will start marketing the production version of its single-stream compactor to other schools.

How smart is that? Plenty. To quote BigBelly Solar, these intelligent waste collection systems use “renewable power and information technology to dramatically lower the operating costs, fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions associated with the waste collection process.”

Let’s just hope these solar-powered compactors don’t pack up and move to Florida. We hear there’s more sun down there.

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