Thursday, March 27, 2008

Where the Sun Don’t Shine

So here I was, all ready to give the CTA kudos for a good green initiative - and they had to shoot themselves in their mass transit foot.

First, the good news. The CTA had the foresight to purchase a new Big Belly Solar Compactor. According to the BigBelly website, the new high-tech trash can is a:
“compacting trash receptacle that is completely self-powered. Instead of requiring a grid connection, BigBelly uses solar power for 100% of its energy needs. The unit takes up as much space as the "footprint" of an ordinary receptacle—but its capacity is five times greater. Increased capacity reduces collection trips and can cut fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions by 80%. BigBelly also provides cost efficiencies from labor savings, fuel cost and maintenance savings, as well as environmental benefits from reduced emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants. Safe, easy to use, and designed to keep out pests, the BigBelly has already proven its worth in urban streets, parks, colleges, arenas—and in all weather conditions.”
So far, so good, right? A spiffy-looking trash can, with a big fat solar panel on top, that will help keep stations cleaner and be environmentally friendly at the same time.

What could be wrong with that?

Well nothing, except for the fact that this solar-powered uber-trash can is located
at the underground Red Line State/Lake subway station.

Sure, the Lake street station has been spiffed up, with more fluorescent lighting added in recent months, but someone should tell the CTA that the sun don’t shine 30 feet under the intersection of State and Lake.

Big Belly can, of course, be plugged in for indoor use.

Hat tip: David Naunton


At March 27, 2008 at 3:05 PM, Anonymous Cheryl said...

Maybe it's somebody's job to come by now and then with a flashlight. You know, the Mayor's 2nd cousin's son, or something like that.

At March 27, 2008 at 11:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This from the same agency that needed to be bailed out last year. Figures.

At March 28, 2008 at 8:50 AM, Anonymous silentk said...

I called the BigBelly company and spoke with someone in Development to ask if fluorescent lighting would power the Belly.

BigBelly needs “direct access to the sky” and fluorescent light does not provide enough juice to run the BigB. (The BigBelly at State/Lake is plugged in with an AC adapter.)

I think outdoors this is a great concept. Fantastic for the beaches and parks, and BigBelly is coming out with a line this week which has separate attachments for bottles or paper.

But underground? How much does a solar power component add to the cost of an industrial trash compactor? We can't even afford to buy trains.

At March 28, 2008 at 11:42 AM, Blogger hgates said...

The BigBelly at State and Lake holds 5 times as much as a regular trash can which results in reducing the cost of collections by over 75%. This is a huge cost savings opportunity for the CTA. The Bigbelly can function indoors with an A/C adaptor and outdoors with the solar panel.

At March 28, 2008 at 11:49 AM, Blogger Rep. John Fritchey said...

Of course it does and that's a very good thing. But it's not the point.

The point is that they likely paid a premium for a solar-powered compactor as opposed to a traditional compactor, and then put it underground. If you're going to tell me that the solar-powered model doesn't cost more, than it's a different story, but I don't think that's the case.

At March 29, 2008 at 9:53 AM, Blogger adomite said...

Just another great example of the diligence, common sense and hard work you bring to the job of state representative, Mr. Fritchey.

Great story and one worthy of the front page of one of your town's great newspapers.

Keep us updated about when/where they finally get it moved out to enjoy some of the windy, Chicago sunlight (although I hear your still somewhat covered in snow).

At March 30, 2008 at 10:45 PM, Blogger hgates said...

The BigBelly compactor at State and Lake is part of a pilot program to test the effectiveness of the BigBelly. So far it has been very successful; they previously collected the trash 4 times a day and with the BigBelly they only collect it once. There are many outside CTA locations that will be using the solar panel; for inside locations the panel would be removed, reducing the cost.

At March 30, 2008 at 10:56 PM, Blogger Rep. John Fritchey said...

That's great to hear. Like I said, the idea of the compactor is a great one. But even as part of the company, you have to admit thatputtinng a solar power one indoors is bound to raise eyebrows.

Did they pay full-price for the indoor solar one? Were some provided for free to test? Just curious.

At March 31, 2008 at 10:30 AM, Blogger hgates said...

This is a pilot at this point and CTA will not be paying for it until it has proven to be successful. All have agreed that the State and Lake location is a good location to conduct the test as it is a a very high volume location. The savings that can be realized by the BigBelly are significant and and the payback is less than 1.5 yrs. I hope you agree that replacing the current trash receptacles with the BigBelly is an excellent way for the CTA to save money. The BigBelly can be supplied with or without the solar panel.

At March 31, 2008 at 10:39 AM, Blogger Rep. John Fritchey said...

That's all good news, and I appreciate the clarification, but I guess that you still can't acknowledge that it looks silly to have a solar power device underground.

At March 31, 2008 at 10:52 AM, Blogger hgates said...

The CTA wanted to be able to move this unit to an outside location and also test it there. I realize that people may not understand why there is a solar-powered unit underground but it is part of a bigger plan. For units that are to be permanently indoors, the company would remove the solar panel and pass on all the savings to the CTA. It would be helpful it the CTA were to put on a sticker explaining the current unit and how it functions. As you probably know, the Parks and Recreation Dept., Streets and Sanitation and 6 SSA's have purchased BigBelly units for a total of 50 in Chicago that are all for outside use. All have functioned well and all depts. are looking to purchase more as part of cost savings and environmental initiatives.

At March 31, 2008 at 10:46 PM, Blogger hgates said...

I do realize what you are saying but in the end it was far less expensive to provide them with one of our units with a solar panel than to take out the panel for one unit. Assuming that the CTA is very satisfied with the results of the BigBelly, we will be selling them units without the solar panel. Our units are less expensive than anything comparable on the market. It has been nice communicating with you and I hope to meet with you to go over the specifics of the BigBelly and the benefits to the CTA and other Chicago depts.

At April 3, 2008 at 10:26 AM, Blogger hgates said...

The main point is that this is a pilot program to test the effectiveness of having a compacting unit and BigBelly is providing the unit at no cost to CTA. I agree that it would be better if this had been clarified with some signage. Any unit that was placed there on a permanent basis would not have the solar panel and the cost of the panel would be deducted. The pilot has already proven that the BigBelly could save the CTA a tremendous amount by reducing collections from 4 per day to 1 per day.

At April 4, 2008 at 9:14 AM, Blogger Melissa said...

I noticed this a couple weeks ago and immediately researched the ability for solar panels to work off of fluorescent lights (thinking of the calculator at my desk) and found it it wouldn't work under ground.

While I understand that it is a piolet program; if they are going to remove the solar panels in the future - why don't they remove it on this one? People think that it is some big green effort on the part of the CTA when it's not, or at least post something that explains the piolet program.

I am just an every day L rider without any engineering background who noticed this immediately was disturbed by it.

At April 9, 2008 at 2:46 PM, Anonymous Bobby D said...

I am all for going green and this is a great idea...ok i know solar powered things don't work "where the sun don't shine", but get over can plug them in! lets save some taxpayers dollars and only have these big bellys emptied once daily instead of 4 times. makes perfect sense to me. i mean we DO have the GREENEST well as one of the highest taxed cities and all of these are inversely related...i hope to see these big bellys underground, above ground, and anywhere else trash goes

At April 9, 2008 at 5:39 PM, Anonymous Leah said...

I think we need to go a little easier on the CTA here, folks! I applaud the CTA for looking at innovative ways to clean up the stations (and their image), be resourceful, and be conscious of the environment (someone else noted that they just came out with a BigBelly with recycling options). As a daily L rider, I am so disappointed that the BigBelly has been removed from the State and Lake stop. It really kept the station looking cleaner without the overflow from the regular cans and clearly is more economically feasible than the other cans (hence everyones note about the fewer pick-ups per day). I hope the CTA will bring Big Belly’s to every station in Chicago (both under and above ground)

At April 14, 2008 at 8:19 AM, Anonymous The Last Word said...

Perhaps a more important debate: Is compacted trash a good thing? Taken from Roland Piquepaille’s Technology Trends web site,

“The real trouble is that [BigBelly is] generating compacted trash. And that brings it’s own set of problems… Compacted trash is great if you’re looking to fit the maximum amount of waste into collection trucks, or landfills.

But the flipside of that benefit is that now your landfills get no oxygen, since they’re so perfectly compacted. And without oxygen, you don’t get decomposition. You get preservation.

So landfills end up being giant storage heaps for trash. Which, again, is fine, if you want to keep the stuff. But wasn’t getting rid of it the point of making it trash in the first place?”

At April 16, 2008 at 2:14 PM, Blogger hgates said...

To clear a misunderstanding on the BigBelly: The compacted trash in the BigBelly is still loose and is able to be sorted for recycling and composting. The BigBelly does not in any way impact the trash that ends up in a landfill. BigBelly achieves a 4:1 ratio to reduce collections by 75% but keep in mind that a traditional trash truck compacts the trash in the vehicle at a rate of 10:1. Once trash gets to a transfer station, it is compacted again and once again at the landfill. I agree that landfills are creating a problem but BigBelly is not part of that.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home