Trash Talk: Bins Send Signal When They’re Full

It used to be the wife would say to the husband, “Honey, it’s time to take out the trash.” Now, at the University of Washington (UW), three-part waste containers are sending the same message, but digitally – and wirelessly – to UW Recycling and Solid Waste staff thanks to solar-powered electronic communications.

The units, called kiosks, represent part of a pilot program aimed at collecting more types of throwaways. The program, launched during Earth Day celebrations last month, features three bins, supplied by BigBelly Solar, in very subdued shades of gray that measure the mass of materials collected and when that mass reaches a certain, preset amount send a text letting workers know it’s time to come and collect the spoils (literally).

UW kiosks

image via University of Washington

In addition to the alert function, the software collects and collates data that allows staff to run reports on past collections to determine future needs. And each kiosk includes a built-in billboard messaging system that educates users on recycling, sorting wastes and what kinds of waste are appropriate to composting.

The university says this not only saves a lot of time otherwise spent checking the bins — which involves sending an entire crew and sanitation truck out — but allows workers to get to the most-frequented sites before all the banana peels, sandwich crusts and stale donuts start spilling over onto the paving stones. In fact, the only thing the containers don’t do is belch. The savings, in fuel and greenhouse gas emissions, is 80 percent, according to our coverage of BigBelly Solar in 2010.

The initiative, according to CleanTechnica, is a result of a Trash-In event UW conducted during 2011 which showed that more than half of the garbage being collected at Red Square, a red-brick-paved area atop the Central Plaza parking garage, was compostable material. Compostables include almost any formerly living material (leaves, grass cuttings, vegetable waste and uneaten fruit, for example) but exclude meat and dairy products. Finally, in addition to the sensors in each of the three bins, the garbage unit has an automated, solar-powered compactor that squashes down the trash and increases space by a factor of five over the former barrels.