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Solar-powered trash cans are coming to Gainesville city streets

Some of the Big Belly bins on UF’s campus. These bins will be adding to as well as replacing the current bins in Gainesville. “Our hope is to bring the community together by creating a welcoming and safe environment,” Centola said. (Sydney Kennedy/WUFT News)
Some of the Big Belly bins on UF’s campus. These bins will be adding to as well as replacing the current bins in Gainesville. “Our hope is to bring the community together by creating a welcoming and safe environment,” Centola said. (Sydney Kennedy/WUFT News)

Gainesville’s city commissioners have something up their sleeve to combat litter – and residents may be surprised to see their solution: Solar-powered trash recycling bins, which will be deployed beginning in 2023.

Big Belly Inc., a Needham, Massachusetts, waste and recycling company, has been awarded the contract to bring its containers to Gainesville. There will be more than 30 new bins installed at about $5,300 each.

According to Big Belly’s regional team member Daniel Centola, the new trash bins will have solar-powered compactors in them that have 150 gallons of capacity. This is around five times more than a typical trash bin can hold. The increased capacity results in trash overflow occurring less often. They will also include a monitoring system that will notify the city when they are overflowing and need to be replaced.

Sustainability Manager Michael Heimbach said that “cut through” streets as well as downtown and midtown will be a few of the areas of focus for the implementation of the new containers. For the most part, bins being added will replace the current bins out there currently. Gainesville residents can expect to see bins being added in January.

This solution did not come at a small price, as it is going to cost the city more than $300,000. The price was not a deterrent for city commissioners, as Heimbach made it clear that litter is an issue that the city takes very seriously.

“We struggle with litter here pretty significantly,” Heimbach said. “A lot of it has to do with the transient nature of people coming in and out of town.”

He asked that Gainesville residents try to be a little more thoughtful when it comes to what they are doing in the environment.

Heimbach said that he believes that the additional capacity through compaction, as well as ability to monitor the fullness makes these containers a good buy.

“We are excited about adding them to our community,” Heimbach said.

Big Belly handles waste and recycling in public spaces. The company was founded in 2003 and has implemented their solution in more than 60 countries.

In addition to the bins reaching capacity at a slower rate, they have a totally enclosed design, which eliminates the risk of litter flying out of the bins onto streets.

“Anything that goes into these bins is not coming back out,” Centola said. “You’re not going to have any issues with windblown litter or even critters getting in there and pulling the trash out.”

Centola also said that the new bins will be more aesthetically pleasing.

“An open-top bin might be a little unsightlier, whereas a Big Belly can be wrapped in all sorts of designs,” Centola said. “Our hope is to bring the community together by creating a welcoming and clean environment.”

Gainesville resident and technology analyst Sam Johnson, 47, said that he is pleased with the city making an effort to clean up their communities, and he is excited to see what the new bins bring.

“It’s nice to see the city taking steps to address what appears to be a problem with too much garbage and overflowing bins,” Johnson said.

Johnson’s number one concern is that these bins will not be put in the right places. He said that there are a lot of places around Gainesville that are lacking adequate trash and recycling bins.

According to Johnson, Citizens Field is one example of a location that needs some attention from the city. Specifically, when it comes to projects like this one.

“There’s a lot of people around, and we live in a culture that there are a lot of disposable single-use plastics available to all of us,” Johnson said. “There’s nowhere to throw these things out.”

Julie Ruiz De la Roche, 21, a UF animal science student, said that she is looking forward to seeing the improvements that the new bins bring to her community.

“I think that litter is definitely a problem here in Gainesville,” Ruiz De la Roche said. “I always see garbage bins overflowing with trash.”

The issue of trash overflow specifically should be solved by the compactor and online monitoring system built into the new bins.

There are various organizations that work hard to ensure Gainesville remains clean. An example of one of these organizations is Keep Alachua Beautiful, which is a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to keep the streets litter-free.

Keep Alachua Beautiful Executive Director Gina Hawkins has worked for the organization since its startup 30 years ago and has been executive director for the last 10. She said that the goal of the organization is to conserve the environmental legacy of Alachua County.

Hawkins said that litter is a problem for many reasons, not just aesthetically.

“Litter makes its way into creeks and wildlife dines on this trash,” Hawkins said. “It also lowers crime rate if you don’t have this blight that signals to people that they don’t care.”

Hawkins is excited for the implementation of these new trash and recycling containers and thinks that they will help with these issues. She said that she has noticed an insufficient amount of garbage bins around the community.

“Having more trash receptacles can only help with the trash situation we have here in Gainesville,” Hawkins said.

She also said that a lot of the trash on sides of streets comes from the front loader garbage trucks when they empty trash receptacles from apartments and other businesses. The trash often sits on top of these receptacles, and it all blows off when the trucks pick up speed.

“Imagine when you pull off the interstate, your first impression of the city is a bunch of trash,” Hawkins said. “It just doesn’t set a good standard for the rest of the visit.”

Sydney is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.