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Hyattsville sees success with Bigbelly

bigbellyHYATTSVILLE – Over the past year, the city of Hyattsville has seen the funds spent on the new Bigbelly trash program as far from a waste. Now, they hope to expand it.

The city currently has 16 Bigbelly trash compactors across the municipality as part of a pilot program that began in the fall of 2016. On Monday, the city council began discussions of continuing that pilot program with another wave of compactor roll-outs and making a few alterations to current placements.

“(The Bigbelly system) has significantly improved removing litter off the streets, compartmentalizing that litter into units that are to just dump volumes of trash in,” said Lesley Riddle, the director of the city’s department of public works. “What we’re recommending is 22 additional stations throughout the city.”

Rob Kutner, a Bigbelly vice president, made a small presentation at the council meeting and went over the impact the compactor trash cans have on the city.

The Bigbelly trashcans throughout the city are dual stations, meaning they have a double compacting unit with separate trash and recycling bins. According to the company, a fully compacted bin will hold about 150 gallons of waste in each side. All units have solar panels and smart communications and are fully enclosed.

Over the past year, the city and Bigbelly have collected data on the 16 stations – how much trash they are taking in, how often they are checked, and if they are being used correctly. Kutner said the city is among the “best in class” for high-level results.

“I work with cities all over the U.S. and the world and some of the initial reports that we’ve had have been really impressive and it’s truly a testament to Lesley and the rest of the public works team,” he said.

Since September of 2016, the Bigbelly stations have brought in nearly 47,000 gallons, or eight tons, of waste products. Of those, 22,500 gallons was trash and roughly 21,800 was recycled. That puts the city at a 49 percent diversion rate – meaning roughly half of the waste collected did not go to a landfill.

Efficiency was also analyzed throughout the course of the year. In more than 500 collections, only 90 times were the receptacles serviced and emptied before they reached capacity. In 426 cases, the collections were made when the station was “ready” for it, Kutner said. That puts the city at an 83 percent collection efficiency rate.

“I like to say that, especially with a phase one like this, anything greater than a 50 percent is really, really strong,” he said.

The city also had a 74 percent reduction in collections, averaging just one collection per trashcan per week compared to a baseline average of four times per week before the Bigbelly installation. Those cuts in routes save the city in terms of time, in fuel costs and even bag costs.

However, Kutner said the average collection amount is “blended out” through the different levels of need. Some receptacles are serviced more than once a week while others are only once a month, meaning trash would be sitting for long periods of time because the capacity of the bin was not met.

Those gaps will hopefully be addressed with adjustments during the next rollout. The city is considering adding nearly 22 more Bigbelly trash cans throughout the city, altering where the current ones are placed, and looking into placing single bins in low volume areas.

“The system continues to learn and that way we can reposition stations or right size the fleet as we need to,” Kutner said. “One of the biggest takeaways here is that we were probably over capacity in a lot places.”

Councilman Edouard Haba suggested an additional four locations for bins along 31st Avenue, Madison, Jamestown and Nicholson Streets, while Coucilwoman Shani Warner suggested one at the four-way stop near Golden China.

To add the 22 new Bigbelly bins, the city would have to pay a one-time fee of $10,551, while monthly service fees will increase by roughly $3,000. The annual cost increase is estimated at $34,500 leaving the city with total investment of $73,000 per year.

But Riddle said the cost is worth it.

“It saves gas. It saves wear and tear on our vehicles, saves wear and tear on our staff,” she said. “This system, everyday I get an email and I know exactly what is happening with all these units. So I think this really rolls out a whole different level of capability.”

Beyond the extension of the program, the city also began discussing the possibility of a public Wi-Fi program. And although trash and Internet access are not often discussed at the same time, Kutner said the Bigbelly units do have the capability to house Wi-Fi hot spots.

Councilwoman Erica Spell brought up the topic during the meeting, saying the city should look into how it can best narrow the digital divide among residents.

“This boils down to a question of access,” she said. “With this item I’m simply proposing that the city administrator explore this option for the city and this would obviously be a service that the city would provide.”

Many of the councilmembers said they are interested in looking into the issue and said it is something they would like to pursue if financially viable. That discussion connected directly to how the city could utilize the Bigbelly units in this endeavor.

Kutner said there would be additional fees for Wi-Fi capability. New equipment would have to be installed in the units with a larger solar panel.

“The nice part is that there isn’t any additional power or infrastructure issues that you would need install,” he said. “There is an about a 250-foot radius that they could service.”

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