Could downtown Charleston benefit from solar-powered, Internet-connected garbage and recycling cans?

Charleston County officials think so, and, if the county lands some private funding, the Holy City soon could join other municipalities using BigBelly garbage and recycling stations.

Savannah has been testing the garbage cans for a year or two, with positive results. In Philadelphia, there are more than 1,000 of the stations on the streets, helping to reduce collection costs and eliminate overflowing cans.

The high-tech receptacles use solar panels to power internal compactors, allowing them to hold more garbage or recycling, which means they go longer without needing to be emptied. The Internet connection means the units can alert authorities when they need to be emptied, while amassing data about public use.

"Instead of having to empty cans three times day, we can do it once," said Joe Shearouse Jr., with Savannah's Citizen Office. "They're in one of our most heavily trafficked squares, where we had problems with overflowing trash cans."

He estimates they hold about five times the garbage of a non-compacting can.

Shearouse said there were some initial concerns that people would hesitate to use the closed cans - they have an opening with a handle, sort of like a mailbox - but he said that hasn't been a problem.

Savannah doesn't have BigBelly recycling cans, but Charleston County hopes to acquire 23 matched pairs of recycling and garbage stations from the company, BigBelly Solar.

In North Carolina, Raleigh has 45 of the paired containers, and collected 12 tons of recycling during a one-year test period, according to Charleston County.

"We've got millions of visitors coming to Charleston every year, walking up and down King Street, and we don't really have anywhere for them to dispose of recyclables," said Carolyn Carusos, the county's recycling program manager.

If the County Council doesn't object to the idea, the county will continue its pursuit of $96,000 in private funding from the Southeast Recycling Development Council, which is sponsored by companies primarily in the waste and recycling industry.

"We have been short-listed, so we are one of 20 cities in the Southeast that are being considered," Carusos said.

The cost to Charleston County taxpayers would be an estimated $25,000 in matching funds, which would be used for education and outreach.

Reach David Slade at 937-5552.