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‘BigBelly’ Devours Waste At Natick

Posted January 7, 2013

When it comes to devouring waste, the Natick Soldier Systems Center has found a hungry helper in the BigBelly Solar Intelligent Waste and Recycling Collection System. Natick purchased 12 BigBelly units in August and distributed them around the 78-acre installation in October, to collect waste.

Ten of the self-sufficient units, which weigh 170 pounds and have 50-gallon waste bins each, are outside and powered by solar panels, compact waste independently and provide real-time data by satellite about their fill status. The other two, situated indoors, plug into electrical outlets.

The entire “smart” system is linked and can be monitored by desktop computer, allowing for efficient waste-removal operations.

“It tells me when it’s full, when it’s getting full, how many times it’s compacted,” said Rich Valcourt, an environmental engineer at Natick. “You save resources and time (and) dedicate your resources where they belong.”

When a unit goes yellow or red on his computer screen, Valcourt knows that its bin is either nearly or completely full. He then emails a crew to pick up waste just at that container. “Time is everything. Time means money,” Valcourt explained. “Instead of spending (time) going around emptying all the containers on post, I can just tell them, ‘Go empty this one and this one.”’

In the past, crews operated with much less information. “They would just periodically go and just empty (containers),” Valcourt said. “So they could be stocked full and no one would really know about it.”

The BigBelly units’ batteries are charged by available sunlight, and a full charge can last two weeks. “On my computer, I can see the charge frequency, and if that frequency starts tailing down, it means one of two things,” Valcourt said. “It’s either not getting enough sun or the battery is starting to fail.”

Valcourt can also monitor how often each unit is opened and compacted, indicating which are used most frequently, along with other inventory statistics. “There’s a wealth of information,” Valcourt said.

Valcourt pointed out that Philadelphia and Chicago now use BigBelly technology to collect all of their waste. He added that Boston will soon do the same. “That’s how they’ve saved themselves tons of money,” Valcourt said. “They’re starting to use them everywhere. They’re really, really taking off.”

By Bob Reinert, USAG-Natick Public Affairs

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