Big Belly Solar: Sproul’s New Waste Bins


Student sorting his waste in the new Big Belly Solar bins

If you have been on Sproul this semester, you probably noticed the new solar waste bins lining its edges.

The Big Belly Solar units house bottle/can recycling, landfill waste and compost, which is a new fixture on Sproul Plaza. The bins can hold up to 5 times more waste than a regular trash bin due to their solar-powered compacting abilities.

These smart bins have sensors that monitor the amount of waste inside and compress the waste when the bin is getting too full. The bin will compact the waste until it is completely full and then wirelessly notify campus facilities staff to empty the bins. This technology saves the campus money by reducing the number of waste collections needed, which has previously been a big problem on Sproul because of the high foot traffic.

The company Big Belly Solar was launched in 2003 and currently has bins in over 47 countries around the world, including Ireland, which I visited over winter break. Dublin has the bins scattered around the city as well as on its University campuses, though they have not implemented composting like we have!

Big Belly Solar at Trinity College, Dublin

Big Belly Solar at Trinity College, Dublin

Other big cities with Big Belly Solar include: Amsterdam, Boston, Chicago, Hamburg, New York and Stockholm.

CEO Jack Kutner is ready to take Big Belly Solar to the next level. Kutner plans to make his bins into data collection centers that would monitor temperature, bin usage, foot traffic on the street, humidity and other important data that cities and universities could use to become more informed.

Full bins spill over on Dwinelle Plaza

Full bins spill over on Dwinelle Plaza

Although the units are fairly expensive, averaging about $3,000 each, they are hoped to pay for themselves in a few years through the reductions in labor costs and fuel needed to pick up the waste.

The closed bins also keep Sproul free from litter, making campus more appealing to potential students. Still, some have criticized the way the bins block the homeless from collecting cans/bottles, which for of Berkeley’s regulars is their only revenue. It’s unclear whether this was purposeful on behalf of the administration or an unconsidered result.

Squirrel eats from open landfill bin

Squirrel eats from open landfill bin

Still, the bins keep trash away from the pigeons and squirrels, which will force our campus “wildlife” to find other sources of food, hopefully not your Chipotle burrito as you sit outside Dwinelle waiting for class.

Haley Broder, ASUC Senator, says “the students I’ve talked to are incredibly excited to see compost particularly on Sproul, but we need it widespread and I’m disappointed about the overflowing landfill bins and misclassified items thrown into the containers, which emphasizes the need for sustainability education.” 

Lin King, director of Cal Recycling and Refuse Services (CRRS), has also noticed that, despite the signage on the new bins, contamination is a BIG issue. Before the University will invest in expanding these bins all over campus there must be a significant change in people’s understanding of these different waste streams, something that must come through a greater commitment and allocation of resources toward “sustainability education.”

Hopefully, over the next few years, all outdoor campus bins will be replaced by Big Belly Solar bins, but for that to happen we need YOUR help in the waste sorting process. If you want to brush up on your campus waste sorting skills check out: 

For more information on Big Belly Solar visit: 

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1 Response

  1. rodel ducusin says:

    how much this kind of waste bin big belly solar , sproul’s new waste bins

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