Everett parks try out garbage gulper

EVERETT — Next time you visit Silver Lake, see if you can spot a BigBelly.

It won’t be wearing swim trunks and it won’t be shaped like John Goodman.

It will be sleek, green and capable of gobbling five times its volume in trash.

A BigBelly is the newest addition to Everett parks: a solar-powered garbage guzzler.

Everett parks staff began investigating the combination trash can and compactor as a way to find a few more hours in the day.

For the city’s parks workers, taking out the trash is a time sucker.

Employees spend hours every morning driving as many as 80 miles to empty trash cans, said John Petersen, an assistant director for Parks and Recreation. That’s time they could be spending mowing lawns and trimming bushes.

The chore also costs gas and vehicle wear-and-tear, he said.

Parks employees can’t just skip picking up trash. A trash can gets full, spills and trash blows all over the park. Animals strew it around. People too lazy to pack it out toss it on the ground.

That’s why this gadget, invented by a Needham, Mass., company, was so appealing to the city.

The BigBelly compacts trash as it starts to fill. A solar panel collects energy and stores it in a 12-volt battery. When the trash gets too high, an infrared eye triggers the compactor. Its 30-gallon receptacle can hold the crushed equivalent of 150 gallons of trash. Compare that to a standard 33-gallon can.

More capacity means workers can pick it up less often.

In the last 18 months, workers have placed nine at area parks, including two at Harborview Park off Mukilteo Boulevard. The cliff-side park was a good test case since it gets scads of trash from people who come to eat lunch and take in the view, said Russell Dance, a city construction supervisor.

He’s pleased. The cans work beautifully and have had needed zero maintenance. Workers now only need to pick up trash at Harborview twice a week. The cans’ smaller openings and secure lids also thwart squirrels, crows and curious toddlers.

The city would eventually like to have as many as 60 BigBellies in parks across the city. The city has applied for money to pay for more than 30 BigBellies as part of a request from the Department of Energy.

BigBellies don’t come cheap. A regular super-sturdy trash can runs about $400. A BigBelly costs $4,000.

Even if the city doesn’t get the federal money, Petersen expects the city will recoup that cost in about three years.

BigBellies save the city money in wages, vehicle hours and fuel. Once the city gets a full complement in place, the city could release 45 tons less carbon dioxide each year.

“We take seriously what they cost,” Petersen said. “We are very pleased they’re performing perfectly.”

Still looking for those BigBellies at Silver Lake? They’re next to the trail, but don’t expect them to use it.

Debra Smith: 425-339-3197, dsmith@heraldnet.com.

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