Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 12
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
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Weather Forecast

A Cleaner Central Business District? Look for Those Bright, Sunshiny Days

Matthew Hersh

You might have noticed what look like four glorified mailboxes downtown in recent days. No, you don’t want to put your bills in there, but you can toss any detritus that might otherwise have been overflowing from an everyday trash receptacle.

The Borough last week installed four BigBelly Solar units, a compacting trash receptacle that is completely self-powered, and holds up to five times what the Borough’s standard municipal garbage cans hold.

According to the BigBelly Web site,, the compactors take up “as much space as the ‘footprint’ of an ordinary receptacle,” and the increased capacity of one container reduces collection trips and may cut fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent.

The units, said Borough Administrator Robert Bruschi, can also cut labor costs, particularly in the summer, when crews are often called on to carry out multiple trips for garbage collection. Mr. Bruschi also pointed to potential fuel cost and maintenance savings, as well as environmental benefits from reduced emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants.

The receptacles, according to the Web site, are “safe, easy to use, and designed to keep out pests,” and have been tested in various weather conditions. They use a solar-charged battery, about the size of a motorcycle battery, which powers the compacting system when refuse hits a certain level. That process takes about 15 seconds, and repeats when garbage returns to that trigger level.

At $4,000 a piece, Mr. Bruschi acknowledged that the technology required an initial financial investment, but pointed to the long-term savings costs, particularly at a time when Borough administration is encouraging the governing body to find alternate revenue streams.

“Over the summer, we pick up the garbage every day, but we don’t have the staff to do multiple trips— we don’t want to have 25 garbage cans on the plaza,” Mr. Bruschi said.

Princeton Borough has 280 municipal trash cans, according to Wayne Carr, the Borough’s Public Works superintendent. Mr. Carr said the four new solar units have replaced 10 standards municipal garbage cans.

Of the four BigBelly receptacles, one is on Hinds Plaza, and three are on Nassau Street near Iano’s Rosticerria, Hoagie Haven, and Landau. Mr. Bruschi said he expects a 52-day reduction in municipal trash collection overtime: “We’re going to get a pretty quick payback. If we can skip that weekly day or place them in locations that are strategic enough so other cans don’t overflow, we’ll see financial benefits very soon,” he said.

The Borough discovered Big Belly at this year’s New Jersey State League of Municipalities conference in Atlantic City, Mr. Bruschi said. “We saw a vendor down there; the concept seemed very interesting because we deal with garbage issues and cleanliness issues seven days a week, and one of the issues we deal with is constant overflow of containers in high-traffic areas in town,” he said. “This thing had a natural appeal.”

The receptacles are used along Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, and in Boston, among other locales.

Mr. Carr was only optimistic: “It’s going to be really effective in cleaning up the downtown in the long-term.”

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