August 7, 2014

UC Merced installing solar trash bins

UC Merced unveiled some high-tech, solar-powered trash receptacles Thursday that staff say will help the school with its many recycling-related goals.

UC Merced unveiled some high-tech, solar-powered trash receptacles Thursday that staff say will help the school with its many recycling-related goals.

The school bought 18 receptacles made by Massachusetts-based BigBelly Solar Inc. Each one uses solar panels to power its compactor and send an email to staff when the bin is full, said Matt Hirota, UC Merced’s waste reduction and recycle coordinator.

The refuse is separated by type; it’s either sent to a landfill, recycled or composted. Each of the bins costs about $4,000, Hirota said, and will be primarily placed along Scholars Lane, the main walkway that leads from the dorms to the library and cafe.

The bins use sensors to read the level of trash and compact the debris automatically. “It’s about the force of someone stomping down and compressing on it,” Hirota said.

When the trash can’t be compressed any more, the bin will send an email to facilities staff. The outside of the bin also has blinking lights that tell passing maintenance workers how full they are.

The cans come with software that allows staff to monitor how full they are, as well as where they are getting the most use.

Tibor Toth, interim assistant vice chancellor for facilities management, said a number of benefits come with the new receptacles: They will replace heavy cans that could have pinched fingers or made maintenance workers bend at the waist to empty. He said the new bins should also keep raccoons from getting inside, reduce the number of overflowing cans and allow the university to expand its composting.

“Composting is one of our major streams of waste for diversion,” he said.

The university has recently added any paper that touches food or liquid – paper plates, soda cups or paper towels, for example – to its compost piles.

Solar power, composting and reduced water use are on the minds of leaders at UC Merced. The university’s goal is to reach its “triple net zero” commitment by 2020. The idea is to consume zero net energy through efficiency and renewable energy production, produce zero landfill waste and prevent as much carbon emission as the university produces.

The school was built with a number of capabilities to reduce water use.

Solar panels are nothing new to UC Merced. The university’s facilities management team is preparing for the installation of photovoltaic systems on eight to 12 structures, which could produce a megawatt of energy per day.

About half of the buildings on campus could get the panels, including student housing, the Leo and Dottie Kolligian Library, and office buildings. University House, the home provided off campus for the chancellor, is also a possibility.

With the addition of rooftop panels, UC Merced would generate about 30 percent of the electricity it uses in a year, according to facilities officials.

The university’s solar field, which is just south of campus, produces 1 megawatt daily. A megawatt could power about 1,250 homes for a year, according to the university.

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