Monday, January 24, 2011

Squash Your Trash the Solar-Powered Way

Lawsy me, solar panels on a trash can!
No grocery store downtown,
but good veggies on Saturday
Working our way north up Florida's east coast, we stopped Friday evening in the former town of Eau Gallie. (It's been merged with Melbourne, but Eau Gallie still has its own sense of place . . . and its own little downtown studded with more or less functioning art galleries).  

Part of the attraction for the stop was learning that the town had a Saturday farmer's market, year-round. (Even in Florida, many markets shut down in winter.)  "Good choice," said the guy in the burlap apron as I picked out an avocado.  "Those are from Naples."  

Not, "Those are from my farm," but, "those are from a town about 150 miles away" (though still in Florida).  Behind one stall was a litter of crates and cardboard boxes: lettuce from Lake Placid.  Blueberries from Gainesville.  

This was a market where vendors had picked up produce from a variety of places.  Fresher and more local than most big-box grocery store stuff, but not exactly "from farm to fork." 

On the  other hand, I'm always collecting examples of innovative public uses for solar power, and I found one at the Eau Gallie market: a sleek, shiny black "solar compactor." With a little research I learned, this is not such a novelty!  Many municipalities are turning to solar trash compactors to reduce the likelihood that public parks will have overflowing trash cans after a big weekend. 

Philly, Boston and New York City have 'em.  The high-tech units can cost more than $3,000 each, compared to $125 for a conventional old-school park trash basket.  It seems ambiguous whether the savings add up. In Philly, where solar compactors are in place, officials say that center city trash pick-ups have been reduced from 17 times per week to five--and they project significant savings (millions of dollars worth) in trash handling costs over the next 10 years. (Another analysis in Seattle calculated that the cost of installing the compactors would exceed the savings.)

Our travel today takes us from Cocoa Village (a well-preserved little enclave across the Intracoastal Waterway from better-known Cocoa Beach) north to Titusville.  It's a calm sunny day, and we've been ceremonially escorted all morning by pairs of dolphins, arching and snorting right next to the boat.  One pair will accompany us for a mile or two . . . then turn back, as another pair approaches to take over the escort service, sleek as motorcycle police accompanying the ponderous armored car of a dignitary--but with friendlier smiles.

Catch up on other boat doin's HERE.


  1. We definitely have solar trash compactors...but I don't think I've EVER seen one in working order. Usually they are jammed open and covered in piles of uncompacted trash! Another potential green energy job for Dad.

  2. Solar trash compactor repair guy . . . I can see it!

    Bummer to hear that these things don't actually work so well. I suppose it's a classic lesson in "you don't get somethin' for nuthin" plus a little greenwashing . . . people say, "solar powered! that must be green!", but all the thing does is reduce the volume of the trash; you still have trash, it's still the same amt. of trash, and (even if you save a little on gas for the trash trucks) it still has to be landfilled.