MANATEE -- Manatee County government staff will no longer have to drive out to some of the county's outlying parks to empty the trash only to find out the trash bin is empty thanks to a new solar-powered compactor program.
Manatee County has installed Big Belly solar trash compactors, which are powered by the sun, throughout the county. The compactors, which hold the volume of five typical 32 gallon trash cans, are connected to a WiFi system, allowing staff to remotely monitor the levels of the compactor.
"Instead of settling for overflowing trash cans or driving needlessly to each park in our system to try and keep up with emptying trash cans, we have invested in solar powered trash can compactors," said Carmine DeMilio, operations manager in the county's property management department.
Manatee County has a total of 35 Big Belly solar compactors and 12 Big Belly recycling companions installed at county facilities and the county plans to add more in 2016, according to DeMilio. County staff is estimating that in 2015 they "emptied 63,873 less trash cans, drove 7,328 less miles, saved $1,308 on 523 gallons of gas, reduced staff time by $56,875 and saved $53,323 in trash bags," according to DeMilio.
Through the wireless monitoring system, staff is notified when the compactor is full and needs to be emptied.
"It is ideal for the outlying parks," DeMilio said.
Crane Park, Myakka Community Park and Bunker Hill Park are among these locations, according to Charlie Bishop, the county's property management department director.
The solar trash compactors have allowed the county to reallocate personnel, reduce fuel costs and reduce the size of the fleet because the vehicles didn't need to be utilized, Bishop said.
"Prior to the Big Bellys, we were actually doing manual routes driving out to these locations," Bishop said, adding that county staff would arrive and see that the trash bins were not full.
In 2016, the county will add an additional 10 Big Belly solar trash compactors, which will result in the property management grounds division emptying 18,250 fewer trash cans, driving 2,093 fewer miles, saving $373 on 149 gallons of gas, reducing $16,250 in staff time and saving $15,235 in trash bags.
"Parks and beaches are the crown jewels of most communities, but the resources required to keep them in pristine condition can tax even the well-funded departments," DeMilio said.
Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024. Follow her on Twitter@Claire_Aronson.