Solar Trashcan

New solar trashcans have been placed along King Street and other parts of downtown Charleston. Andrew J. Whitaker/Staff

Solar-powered and radar-equipped garbage cans began appearing downtown Charleston a few weeks before Hurricane Dorian hit, and more are expected to make their ways to West Ashley and the East Side in the coming weeks.

The new trashbins, called Bigbelly bins, are expected to save the city about $200,000 a year.

The tech-forward approach has already shaved hours off of routine trash checks along the city's busiest and tourist-heavy streets. It means sanitation workers can instead focus on other issues, like street sweeping, according to Charleston's Superintendent of Environmental Sciences Matt Alltop.

Alltop described the rectangular, mailbox-looking trashcans as "smart little litter baskets." Once trash is placed in the bin, the Bigbelly will compact the item so it can accumulate more trash than the normal, air-exposed trashcans.

Once the trash gets to a certain height, a sensor on the trashcan sends an email to the city's Environmental Services department alerting the need for a new trashbag. 

Unlike the air-exposed trashbins, the enclosed space keeps rats away, litter from flying around and reduces the strong waft of trash on a hot day. The city reduced the number of trashcans from 147 to 120 because the new trashbins hold nearly three times as much as the old trashcans. 

The city signed a five-year lease for 120 trashcans, a yearly cost of $172,000. A little more than 100 of the smart trashcans have been installed throughout downtown, Alltop said, with more to be set up along the Greenway and Avondale.

The city stationed the new trashbins in the central business district and along the Battery and other tourist areas, a few will go out near the Greenway and a few others in Avondale. 

Instead of emptying trashcans along the Battery and Calhoun and King streets upward of seven times a day, crews have been replacing trashbags in those areas twice a week. It will save on the number of plastic bags the city uses, too. Instead of nearing 18,000 plastic bags, the city will use about 2,000 or 3,000, Alltop said. 

Alltop said the city has received a lot of positive feedback about the new bins, and has seen a few people taking selfies and pictures with the new green bins. They include the city's Citizen Service Desk phone number underneath a white vignette of the city skyline. 

He said the project has been two years in the making, and that Savannah and other cities like New York, Boston and Philadelphia use the same trashbins. 

Alltop said the city staff will also look into using the trashbins as WiFi hot spots, cell and radio equipped technology for city radio equipment. 

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Reach Mikaela Porter at 843-937-5906. Follow her on Twitter @mikaelaporterPC. 

Mikaela Porter joined The Post and Courier in April 2019 and writes about the city of Charleston. Previously, Mikaela reported on breaking news, local government, school issues and community happenings for The Hartford Courant in Hartford, Conn.