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Archive for June, 2012

TIME Magazine: Trash Talk

New Energy  |  Michael Grunwald

THE FUTURE OF GARBAGE IS GREENER, cleaner, smarter and cheaper to pick up. And it’s here, in the form of a trash can the size of a U.S. mailbox, pimped out with a solar-powered compactor that allows it to hold five times as much as a normal can, plus high-tech sensors that let sanitation workers know how full it is. There are 15,000 of these BigBellys deployed around the world, and they’ve already started to transform the ultimate dirty industry, keeping gas guzzling trucks off the street while cutting costs for cash-starved communities. In Philadelphia, where BigBellys were painted in bright colors to look like cute trash-eating monsters, they saved the city nearly $900,000 on collections in their first year. They’ve reduced pickups from three times a weekday to less than three times a week, and they’ve financed a new recycling program that’s producing additional eco-friendly revenue.

A young entrepreneur named Jim Poss founded the company that became BigBelly Solar in 2003 because he wanted to do something green and profitable and the waste industry seemed ludicrously wasteful. Most garbage trucks get less than 3 m.p.g. and cost $150 an hour to operate. Nationally, they bum a billion gallons of diesel a year and cost communities over $50 billion. Poss was determined to break into the world of renewable energy, and while he thought it would take some time for solar panels and electric vehicles to compete with coal and gasoline, he saw instant opportunities for efficiencies in the world of garbage. “I don’t need a subsidy to kill the business model of huge trucks driving around aimlessly,” Poss says….

So what’s the catch? Really, there isn’t one. BigBellys help reduce our carbon emissions — and our vulnerability to price shocks — while shrinking bureaucracies. They also help keep cities cleaner, eliminating overflows that attract rats and pigeons. They’re made in America, supporting factories in Vermont and Kentucky in addition to about 40 employees at the company’s Massachusetts headquarters. BigBelly Solar’s revenues have doubled almost every year, and the coming era of tight budgets should be good for business.

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