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To Curb Trashcan Clutter, a City Will Try Stowing Waste Underground

The skyline in Raleigh, North Carolina.

The skyline in Raleigh, North Carolina. Shutterstock

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Raleigh, North Carolina is looking to improve on “the old school model” it uses to handle waste from downtown businesses.

Raleigh, North Carolina is planning to install dumpster-sized, partially buried trash containers as part of a pilot project aimed at reducing clutter, foul smells and other inconveniences caused by businesses placing garbage and recycling bins on the sidewalk for waste pickups.

Older streets in Raleigh lack alleyways, which means the existing 95-gallon trash carts commonly used by businesses, including restaurants, end up parked curbside or in other areas, like parking lots. The city sends trucks around to pick up these bins twice a day, six days a week.

“The old school model, before the businesses got so thick and dense downtown, was to just use the residential model,” solid waste services director Stan Joseph explained. But the number of carts grew.

“There’s some locations that have 40 carts out there at one stop,” Joseph said. “You end up in the summertime with food waste there and that stuff’s smelling,” he added. “It started getting to be, I think, a little unsightly, certainly taking up space.”

So the city is moving ahead with a program to try out six cylindrical containers for trash and recycling that will be installed partly underground, with their tops exposed, in a no-parking zone.

A diagram shared by the city shows that they’re five to six feet in diameter, but the manufacturer makes several models.

The city says that the containers it’s looking at can hold the equivalent capacity of about 20 of the rolling carts that are now widely used. Joseph says that’s roughly the size of a six-yard dumpster that might be found in back of a restaurant.

Giant reusable liner bags are placed inside the buried container shells. The bags can be lifted and emptied using a garbage truck outfitted with a boom arm. Molok, the company that makes the system, also offers a hard-sided lifting container for wet waste and compostables.

The company’s technology was developed in the 1980s in Finland and is in use in countries around the world. But Raleigh claims it’s on track to be the first U.S. city to adopt it.

Joseph is optimistic that the six containers will be installed and operating sometime this summer.

Eight businesses as of Thursday had signed up with the city to use the containers once they’re in place. Joseph said it’s still not entirely clear what kinds of strategies businesses will use to get their trash and recycling to the centralized drop-off.

It’s possible they could keep some of their current bins and roll them to the containers, have staff hand carry bags of trash, or use some other kind of cart. A future possibility Joseph noted would be a small electric vehicle that goes around and shuttles bagged waste to the containers.

In deciding whether it will expand the pilot project, the city plans to look at factors like potential cost savings, convenience, and whether the containers are helping to improve cleanliness and cut down on nuisances like odors and trips by garbage and recycling trucks.

Bill Lucia is a Senior Reporter for Route Fifty and is based in Olympia, Washington.

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