02 July 2008

WALL-E, Barney and Big Belly: What to do with our Waste

On average, each American produces 30 pounds of waste per week. 25,000 tons of garbage is generated from the city of New York every day. In May, the city of Naples, Italy was littered with over 6000 tons of rubbish piling up and spilling over in city streets because of a dysfunctional waste collection system. In spite of rising food prices, Americans continue to waste an astounding amount of food. According to this NY Times article, 27 percent of food available for consumption ends up in the landfill, which works out to a pound of food every day per person.


When we’re responsible for cleanup, we pay attention’ says an article I recently read. The article is a discussion on helping to clean church buildings, but I think the concept is applicable to the environment as well. How many of us have been to a landfill? Do we know what happens to our waste when we put it in a can? It would be nice if school curriculums required children (and adults) to see the process of where waste goes when it leaves our hands. Even Barney, one of my least favorite children’s shows sings, "Clean up, clean up, everybody everywhere. Clean up, clean up, everybody do your share."


The new Pixar film has as its main character a robot named WALL-E, standing for Waste Allocation Load Lifter, Earth-Class. The film is "set in the late 2700s, several centuries after humans finally filled the Earth with so much garbage that life was no longer sustainable and they had to leave." (Eric Snider review) WALL-E is a solar-powered trash compactor that collects trash and compacts it into cubes. Sound far-fetched? While they don’t walk, and aren’t as cute, similar solar-powered trash compactors are springing up all over the country. They go by the unflattering name of ‘Big Belly.’

Big Belly

I recently spotted several of them in downtown Portland. According to their website they are also in Boston, MA and Queens, NY, Arizona State University, Albuquerque parks, and the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, among other places. Big Belly can hold eight times the trash of a traditional garbage can and is essentially a smart appliance. It will work in all climates since it can complete 1000 crush cycles after just five hours in the sun and can function without sunlight for up to four weeks. Additionally, it is very strong meaning animals cannot access the trash and spread disease, as is often the case with traditional garbage cans. The cost is expensive up front, but the payback savings take less than a year to make up the difference. Less trips to pick up trash saves the city significant time and money.

So there you have it. WALL-E, Barney, and Big Belly. Three unlikely friends joining forces in the battle over what to do with our trash. They don't solve our landfill problems and they don't force us to be responsible with how much we waste, but they are helping us to be more efficient and thoughtful about how we collect our waste.

Need more convincing? Check out this video clip from ‘Beyond Tomorrow’.

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