Texas Town Saving Green by Going Green

Walk through downtown El Paso, Texas, and one will stumble upon some of the most high-tech trash cans in the country. City leaders decided to use funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to upgrade 91 of the city receptacles to BigBelly Solar trash compacting bins, costing $4,000 a piece.

El Paso is following Philadelphia in the investment, where BigBelly reports the city saved nearly $900,000 in the first year of operation, including manpower and fuel costs. El Pasos Department of Environmental Services started installing the 73 new bins downtown in early June, and recently added 18 more to a city park. They dont have the figures of the first couple of weeks yet but the cans are projected to save $95,000 in costs each year.

This is going to reduce fuel, because it uses a lot fuel for us to run a garbage truck down there every single day, sometimes twice a day, because these litter baskets get so filled up, said Ellen Lythe, director of environmental services for the City of El Paso.

Now the new bins will have to be emptied only a couple of times a week. With fewer trucks on the road, the city also expects to save 67 tons of carbon monoxide going into the atmosphere each year.

An alert system in the bin communicates with the department, telling it which bins are full and need to be emptied. A solar powered battery operates the compression and alert system.

This trashcan is designed so that it compresses trash as its being used, said Victor Flores, a park area supervisor for the City of El Paso general services department. It will also eliminate the opportunity for pilferage -- sometimes we have people collecting cans and recyclables, and they will empty the contents of the container.

He said the old bins didnt hold the trash very well, so a lot of litter was seen along the streets and parks.

Flores said the city is also expected to see a change in workflow among environmental services employees. Were hoping it allows us to do more park maintenance of items that need to be handled on a daily basis.

Flores says the old trash bins have to be replaced three or four times a year, while the upgraded bins are expected to last 10 years.

The City of El Paso spent $400,000 from the Recovery Act to make the upgrades. Lythe said the funds were to go sustainability efforts only. But some people who live in El Paso think the government should have geared the funds to improve other areas of the city.

Four thousand dollars for a trash can? I think its a little over exaggerating, said David Paiz, an El Pasoan who opposes the citys decision to buy the bins. He said the federal government shouldnt tell the city where it needed to direct the funds.

I say I think they should use that money more on [fixing] sidewalks and streets, added Paiz.

Matula Kiladi, a rap artist who spends many days a week in downtown El Paso promoting his music, said hes impressed with the improvements and increased cleanliness on the streets.

What Ive been seeing since they installed this new system, is the trash goes in there, gets compacted down, and its not all over the streets, all over the sidewalk where people walk, he said.

Kiladi said he likes seeing his federal tax dollars in action. Were actually seeing the money right there, with the units working itself so its a good thing.

Don Wilkinson is skeptical and said he hasnt seen a difference in sanitation on the streets. Just spending money on it because its green is not a good reason to spend money. (He also mentioned that hes opposed the Recovery Act all together.)

Others said despite the high cost, it will pay off.

I think its an improvement because sometimes you have to make an investment to save money in the long run, said Caroline Brown, an El Paso native visiting family over summer vacation.

Lythe said the city would like to see more solar trash bins installed in the future, but it depends on the availability of funds.