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4 Garbage Bins That Do More Than Just Collect Trash

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In most well-run cities, there’s a trash can on nearly every street corner. Given their ubiquity, trash cans provide a unique opportunity for urban amenities. City workers already come to check on them regularly, and new trash receptacles are often fairly hardy metal boxes to which you can attach sensors, solar panels, and more. Here are four ways cities are using trash and recycle bins for more than just waste disposal: 

1. Feeding dogs

recycling bin from the Turkish company Pugedon helps feed hungry stray dogs. Every time someone puts in a bottle, it dispenses a little bit of kibble, funded by the money earned by recycling. It also has space where you can pour out your water bottle for the dogs to drink. 

2. Urban bomb-proofing 

Image Credit: Renew

In advance of the London Olympics in 2012, the city ordered 100 bomb-proof recycling bins at a cost of $25,000 pounds each (around $39,000 in today’s dollars). The ultra-strong cans are designed to withstand a blast should someone try to hide a bomb within them. They also come equipped with LCD displays that can show emergency alerts, transit information, and ads. For a short time, the recycling bins also collected data on electronic devices in the near vicinity, allowing the city to track people walking by—but that program was discontinued following public outcry.

3. WiFi hotspots

Image Credit: Bigbelly

The solar-powered trash can manufacturer Bigbelly is trying to bring WiFi to its waste disposal bins across New York City. WiFi hotspots within Bigbelly trash and recycling cans had enough bandwidth to support an entire small business in pilot testing. The company is searching for sponsors to help launch the project citywide.  

4. Cryptocurrency mining

A smart trash can topper called eCan rewards people for cleaning up. It attaches to existing trash cans and can sense when a new item is thrown away. When it launched last summer, the high-tech trash can lid was designed to mine Emrals, a cryptocurrency invented by eCan’s founder, every time a user tossed trash in. The idea is to set up a system where these Emrals could be exchanged like money or used to get local discounts. 

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Harry Trimble
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Delightful Photo Series Celebrates Britain’s Municipal Trash Cans
Harry Trimble
Harry Trimble

Not all trash cans are alike. In the UK, few know this better than Harry Trimble, the brains behind #govbins, a photo project that aims to catalog all the trash can designs used by local governments across Britain.

Trimble, a 29-year-old designer based in South London, began the series in 2016, when he noticed the variation in trash can design across the cities he visited in the UK. While most bins are similar sizes and shapes, cities make trash cans their own with unique graphics and unusual colors. He started to photograph the cans he happened to see day-to-day, but the project soon morphed beyond that. Now, he tries to photograph at least one new bin a week.

A bright blue trash can reads ‘Knowsley Council: Recycle for Knowsley.’
Knowsley Village, England

“I got impatient,” Trimble says in an email to Mental Floss. “Now there’s increasingly more little detours and day trips” to track down new bin designs, he says, “which my friends, family and workmates patiently let me drag them on.” He has even pulled over on the road just to capture a new bin he spotted.

So far, he’s found cans that are blue, green, brown, black, gray, maroon, purple, and red. Some are only one color, while others feature lids of a different shade than the body of the can. Some look very modern, with minimalist logos and city website addresses, Trimble describes, “while others look all stately with coats of arms and crests of mythical creatures.”

A black trash can features an 'H' logo.
Hertsmere, England

A blue trash can reads ‘South Ribble Borough Council: Forward with South Ribble.’
South Ribble, England

A green trash can with a crest reads ‘Trafford Council: Food and Garden Waste Only.’
Trafford, Greater Manchester, England

Trimble began putting his images up online in 2017, and recently started an Instagram to show off his finds.

For now, he’s “more than managing” his one-can-a-week goal. See the whole series at govbins.uk.

All images by Harry Trimble

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Why a Train Full of New York City Poop Was Stranded in Alabama for Two Months
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Residents of Parrish, Alabama probably aren't too fond of New Yorkers right now. That’s because the town is currently home to a full trainload of poop courtesy of the Big Apple, as Bloomberg reports. Some 200 shipping containers of treated sewage have been stuck in Parrish for more than two months while the town takes landfill operators to court.

New York City doesn't keep its own sewage sludge to itself, and it hasn't for decades. In the 1980s, New York City was dumping its "biosolids"—the solids left over from sewage treatment, i.e., your poop—into the Atlantic Ocean, where it settled on the bottom of the sea floor in a thick film stretching over 80 square nautical miles. When the government banned the practice of dumping waste straight into the ocean, the city had to get creative, finding a way to get rid of the 1200 tons of biosolids produced there every day.

Enter the poop train. As a 2013 Radiolab episode taught us (we highly recommend you listen for yourself), treated sludge was eventually shipped out to other states to use as fertilizer in the 1990s. After farmers in Colorado began noticing better growth and fewer pests in the fields they grew with New York City's finest sewer sludge, growers in other states began clamoring to take the big-city poop by the train-full, too. That tide has turned, though, and now no one wants the city's poop. Because of the cost of running the program, the train to Colorado stopped in 2010.

Now, biosolids are instead shipped to landfills upstate and in places like Georgia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, according to The Wall Street Journal. And Alabama. For more than a year, the Big Sky landfill near Parrish has been accepting New York City biosolids, and the locals who have to deal with trainloads of rotting waste aren’t happy.

Normally, the sludge would be loaded onto trucks and then driven the last stretch to get to the landfill. But Parrish and its nearby neighbor of West Jefferson aren't interested in playing host to those messy poop transfers anymore. As the two towns take the landfill operators to court over it, the trains are stuck where they are, next to Parrish's Little League baseball fields. The trainload of sludge is blocked from either being sent to the landfill or back to New York City. While the city has stopped shipping more waste to Big Sky, it essentially said "no takebacks" regarding what they've already sent south. Short of a legal decision, that poop isn't moving.

Needless to say, the residents of Parrish would really, really like to resolve this before summer hits.

Update: Parrish residents can officially breathe easy. The last of the sludge has now been removed from the town, and Big Sky has ended its operation there, according to a Facebook post from Mayor Heather Hall. The containers that remain have been emptied of their smelly cargo and will be removed sometime before Friday, April 20.

[h/t Bloomberg]

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