Sunday, July 21, 2024

Leavenworth's new “smart” bins face challenges in first few months


LEAVENWORTH –  Downtown’s new Bigbelly bins, intended to increase efficiency, have experienced obstacles in their first few months of installation, such as technology malfunctions and cleanliness issues.

“While we don’t have an exact number, the additional maintenance of the Bigbelly street cans is more than we originally anticipated,” said Communications and Special Projects Manager Kara Raftery. “However, even with the added layer of unexpected maintenance, in terms of the labor effort there is still a net benefit with the Bigbelly street cans.”

This spring, the city installed 55 Bigbelly bins, which compact trash and hold up to 150 gallons, throughout the downtown corridor. Of the 55 trash compacting bins, 10 are Smart Max bins, which can notify public works staff when they are nearing capacity.

During the June 11 meeting, Public Works Director Tom Wachholder told the City Council the crew had run into difficulties getting the self-reporting Smart Max bins to notify the staff when full. Wachholder also said more time was being dedicated to cleaning the trash chutes of the bins, which were becoming dirtier more quickly due to substances like ice cream sticking as they went down.

“You may have seen some social media on this, but I just want to assure the council that the crews are working diligently on trying to get these Big Belly cans to report out when they’re full. We're working through some kinks, all in all, [with] the couple of the cans that haven't been reporting out, and then just the cleanliness of them,” said Wachholder.

According to Raftery, one bin recently experienced an internal sensor malfunction, but the success rate has still been “fairly consistent” for the bins.

Additionally, one bin near Icicle Brewing Company was also reported to have a fire in it.

“The recent fire in one of the street cans was believed to have been started by a still-lit cigarette butt. Luckily, it appears that the bin sustained minimal to little damage,” said Raftery.

The city is leasing the bins for 60 months from Bigbelly Solar, LLC, in an attempt to prevent trash overflow in the downtown corridor, particularly during peak tourism days. 

Prior to the Bigbelly bins, the city utilized 32-gallon bins that had to be manually changed out. Last winter, Public Works had to increase its frequency of trash collection in order to keep up with the crowds, resulting in additional overtime hours.

Alternatively, the Bigbelly bins have a higher capacity, can be changed using the city’s garbage truck, and are bear-resistant. When Public Works proposed the bins to the City Council earlier this year, the department estimated it would save approximately 31 staff hours per week, or $7,300 per month.

The bins have a total monthly cost of $5,790 to lease, in addition to the $11,630 one-time shipping fee.

Taylor Caldwell: 509-433-7276 or


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