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The BigBelly Program

What It Is

One goal. Many hands. The BigBelly™ program.

It's always a challenge to keep the city litter free. There are so many people out on the streets carrying drinks or snacks or reading material. The old trash containers filled up fast and always overflowed. Recyclable items had no place to go but into those same containers. The BigBelly™ program has changed that.

The BigBelly trash bins are actually solar-powered trash compactors. They take up no more sidewalk space than a regular outdoor trash container but, by automatically compacting the trash you throw in, they can hold so much more.

In 2008, the City began its BigBelly program with the installation of 470 units in Center City. By converting from wire baskets to BigBellies, collections were reduced from an average of 17 per week using three crew shifts to about 3 per week using one crew shift. This not only reduced the amount of trash on the street, but also freed up time for Streets Department workers to tackle other issues. Philadelphians quickly saw the benefits, and so did the state.

The program began steadily growing. In 2009 and 2010, with funding from both the state and the City’s Commerce Department, 220 more BigBelly units, 100 of them with side by side recycling bins, were added. BigBellies appeared beyond Center City on the street corners of surrounding neighborhoods.

Philadelphia’s BigBellies created a buzz nationally too, so much so that a third deployment of BigBellies was initiated by the Sanitation Division funded through the USDOE Energy Development Block Grant to the City as a part of its American Reinvestment and Recovery Act grant.

By the end of 2011, 900 of our solar-powered trash bins will be standalone units. Nearly 400 others will be paired with a recycling bin to make single-stream recycling easy even when you're on the go. You’ll even find some at the ballpark – the Phillies will be adding some BigBellies at Citizens Bank Park very soon. Plastic bottles, glass containers, newspapers and magazines, metal cans – all the things that used to end up in public trash cans – have bins of their own. And everything in them gets recycled. 

Learn more about recycling

Each BigBelly solar-powered trash compactor:

  • Operates for a week on the energy it takes to make a pot of coffee
  • Operates for a year on the energy it takes to drive a trash truck one mile
  • Holds up to five times the volume of ordinary trash receptacles—about 150 gallons before compaction
  • Compacts trash with 1,200 pounds of force
  • Results in 80% less greenhouse gases and other pollutants
  • Needs only 1/5 the number of trash truck pickups

Since converting its collection system from wire baskets to BigBellies in Center City, collections were reduced from an average of 17 per week using three crew shifts to about 3 per week using one crew shift. Collection costs were reduced by over $800,000.