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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Exciting new trash bin graces NYC’s Union Square

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NEW YORK — Though waste receptacle culture here in New York City regularly makes me hearken back longingly for Toronto’s more progressive (if often overflowing, monster-sized and ad-laden) street-level trash can offerings, there’s a new kid in town — specifically the BigBelly Solar Compactor. (Don’t miss that link for a super-cute animation of an anthropomorphic solar-powered trash compactor gleefully feeding garbage to itself!)

Spotted at the northwest corner of Union Square, this crazy mofo boasts a US-Mail-style trash door and a solar-powered lid. Charge-level indicators blink with modernity at the front of the bin.

Though the BigBelly doesn’t offer recycling potential, its ability to compress trash to 20% of its original size on its own self-powered steam is reasonably exciting, or at least it is if trash cans get you off. A tip of the hat goes to the design team for adding the classic “Pitch In” trash can logo, and a tip of the hat to NYC for not selling ad space on the front panel — at least not yet.

The Union Square Partnership might be a little waste-receptacle-commitment-phobic, however. A few short strides away from the BigBelly is this old classic workhorse:


And another few feet to the south on a mini traffic island lies this enigmatic array of rarely-seen aluminum and paper recycling bins:


Clearly we still have a long way to go — but it’s an interesting little beginning.



  1. I saw solar powered garbage cans in Portland (OR) 2 weeks ago. As for recycling bins in the streets, I have seen recycling bins (about at least 6 ft high) in lots of French towns for a good 20 years. The ones I saw were usually located in the corner of a small square in a residential area downtown. they only had a small opening and the whole thing was lifted by a truck mounted crane when full.

  2. I wonder what the maintenance of these bins are, and how many people would rather not touch the bins handle.

  3. Recycling units are now available that look like the BigBelly and attach to it to improve recycling opportunities as an integrated kiok.

  4. I’d like to see the city pursue other solar powered waste handling equipment such as solar powered compactors. I know of only one company that makes them and it’s Marathon Equipment Company.

  5. Many thanks for the shout out about our newest sanitation effort. The Union Square Partnership is the first business improvement district in New York City to pilot the use of the Big Belly solar-powered trash compactors. We placed three units at some of the district’s busiest corners at 14th St & B’way, 14th St & Univ. Place, and 17th St & B’way to gauge their effectiveness. The compactors have already had a huge impact by reducing garbage collection frequency by approximately 70 percent at those corners. At the end of summer, we will evaluate their overall impact to determine if the district would benefit from the presence of additional Big Belly compactors. These units don’t come cheap so we are looking for sponsors to support future purchases. To answer the specific question above about maintenance, our Clean Team is trained to wipe down the unit after emptying. For more information about our program and events, please visit us at

  6. AAM– I don’t know about NYC, but when I was in Boston 3 summers ago the lack of on-street recycling bins stuck out at me like the proverbial sore thumb.

  7. We got a few of these here in Montreal last summer but they must have changed the design because they’re nowhere near as sharp looking as these ones.

  8. Does anybody know what the price is for a solar powered compactor.It would be a great accessory for homeowners.Allow more efficient use of the “new bins” being distributed throughout the city.

  9. am intrigued by the fact that recycling wasn’t incorporated in the design of them Big Bellies from the beginning. how in hell can u design garbage bins in 2008 without considering recycling?

    “ensuring a cleaner, greener environment”? u kidding me?

  10. We have had a couple of those solar-powered bins in Victoria, BC for some time now, too. When they were installed, people questioned their merit, fretting that they’d be vandalized (like, we’re supposed to adapt to vandals by sticking with plain bucket trash cans and eschewing more expensive technology, not vice versa… *sigh*!), but they seem to be doing fine.

    We could definitely use more recycling stations — the binners sort through the standard bins (obviously not the solar-powered ones), but only a few have special rims for leaving bottles & cans.

  11. That’s really a good start. However, I’m pretty sure there would still be some people who would forget to throw trash in the proper bin.