UH Hopes New Smart Trash Compactors Will Save Money, Environment

The University of Houston is using a new system to reduce its carbon footprint. Its new solar-powered trash cans not only compress waste, they also send a signal when they need to be emptied.


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Eighty of these large garbage cans are now distributed all over the UH campus. What’s special about them is, well, for one, their $8,000 a piece price tag, but also that each is a miniature solar-powered garbage compactor. They fit five times more trash than regular cans and send a wireless signal to the company monitoring them when they’re full.

“So, where we were going around once a day to all the trash cans to see if they were full, we don’t have to do that now. We wait until the trash can tells us it’s full.”

That’s Michael Burriello, assistant director of facilities management at UH. He says because of the gas and labor savings, the bins pay for themselves within less than two years.

Each trash can unit also has a part for recycling. That part has a round opening for cans and bottles and a narrow slot for paper.

Burriello hopes that will improve recycling participation on campus. He points to some of the older recycling bins, many of which are still being used.

“In those bins, it normally turned into trash because we ended up with banana peels and lunch scraps and everything else in there, but at least here it says it, this is trash and that’s recycling.”

He says that previous effort to recycle on campus was not working at all. But he says feedback from students made it clear that they want recycling on campus. In fact, it was a student who approached the school about considering the trash compactors, which are made by Massachusetts-based Big Belly Solar.

In Houston, UH is a pioneer in using that technology. The closest campus that also has Big Belly trash cans is Texas A&M in College Station, which has used them since 2009. A Big Belly Solar spokeswoman says nationwide, more than 200 universities have them.

Burriello hopes that the other campuses that are part of the University of Houston system – Downtown, Clear Lake and Victoria – will follow the main campus’s example.

“Based on the 1.7-1.8 year payback on these, we’re encouraging our sister campuses to do the same.”

To further ride the green wave, UH has also installed water filling stations throughout the campus this semester, in hopes that students will refill their water bottles and won’t even have to worry about creating waste for their fancy new bins.


Florian Martin

Florian Martin

Business Reporter

Florian Martin is currently the News 88.7 business reporter. Florian’s stories can frequently be heard on other public radio stations throughout Texas and on NPR nationwide. Some of them have earned him awards from Texas AP Broadcasters, the Houston Press Club, National Association of Real Estate Editors, and Public Radio...

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