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Solar trash cans were placed along King Street and other parts of downtown Charleston in September 2019.

Isle of Palms is looking for a more efficient, less labor-intensive way to improve their public waste receptacles. Currently, they're toying with the concept of solar trash compacting stations.

Last September, the City of Charleston rolled out solar-powered and radar-equipped trash bins called Bigbelly bins. These are projected to save the city approximately $200,000 a year, according to reports by the Post and Courier.

Unlike the 55-gallon topless plastic trash cans Isle of Palms currently employs, a Bigbelly garbage can is a sealed, rectangular can with a automatic trash compactor inside. These cans are proven to accumulate more trash than air-exposed cans. When Bigbelly cans are filled to capacity, they transmit a wireless signal to the garbage collectors telling them it's time to make a pick-up.

At the Jan. 16 Public Works Committee, Isle of Palms Public Works Director Donnie Pitts and Assistant Director Robert Asero met with the City of Charleston's Department of Environmental Services to discuss the solar bins application.

"Very neat concept but I think some of our biggest questions and concerns is what do you do when one of these trash compacting stations is broken," Asero said.

Asero discovered that in the event of a solar bin's malfunction, it would have to be locked and a regular trash can would have to be placed beside it during the period of maintenance. The service to fix it would be an additional charge from a separate contractor.

Another issue was that the new devices require placement on a concrete pad and must be bolted to the ground, therefore it's not feasible for them to be setup on the beach, according to city administrator Desiree Fragoso. There are also concerns shared about how the mechanics would fare against the salt air over time.

Fragoso noted how Front Beach's commercial district would make for an ideal location. She said the main benefit of these devices is to reduce maintenance costs of trash collection and amount of time serviced due to the self-compacting feature.

Not only does the solar trash can cut down on the man hours, Public Works Committee chair Phillip Pounds said they're more aesthetically pleasing and smelling by containing odors.

"If we can come up with a better idea that saves our staff some time, it's not a crazy amount of maintenance on everybody's part and it looks good then it could be a win for everybody," he said.

In the meantime, Pounds said the Public Works staff will do some more research and look at cost-effective alternatives before bringing the idea to full council.