All hail the Bigbelly foot pedal

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If you’re one of the people who’ve perfected the complicated grab-flip-toss maneuver it takes to throw trash in a street corner Bigbelly without touching its refuse-smeared handle, sorry — that skill you’ve honed over the past eight years is no longer useful. At least not in Center City.

Last week, the city began installing a set of approximately 275 new Bigbelly trash compactors equipped with foot pedals. As of Thursday morning, a Streets Department rep said, between 70 and 80 percent of the pedal-operated Bigbellies had been installed.

The Bigbellies first showed up in Philly back in 2009, and have since been installed in nearly 1,000 locations around the city. Powered by solar panels and outfitted with “smart” sensors that can send alerts when they fill up, the wire can replacements were touted as a money-saving move. They hold five times the amount of trash, allowing the Streets Department to dedicate less staff time for pick-ups.

Philly’s far from the only city to install the devices. The Bigbelly site offers glowing testimonials by elected officials around the world, from Los Angeles to Atlanta to Melbourne, Australia.

But problems with overflow, extreme load weight and general mechanical breakdown — stuck drawers, handles swiped for scrap metal, doors hanging open — made them much more costly for Philadelphia than expected. City Controller Alan Butkovitz issued more than one report decrying the Bigbellies as an expensive waste of funds, claiming last summer they city has shelled out $6.5 million in maintenance and parts.

For many residents, the behind-the-scenes financials were less an issue than the grossness of actually using the things.

And then, some good news. Following installation of a pedal-operated prototype two years ago in Point Breeze — at which point then-Streets Commissioner David Perri admitted to Philly Mag it was “going to be a while” before a citywide changeover — the new foot pedal Bigbellies have finally begun proliferating.

This batch of new compactors was provided free of charge by Green City Solutions LLC, which will also take care of maintenance and cleaning in exchange for the rights to sell advertising on them. (Advertising will begin at some point in December, per the Streets Department.)

Credit: Shannon Wink / Billy Penn

Eventually, Streets Commissioner Carlton Williams told in June, the city will look into adding foot pedals to older Bigbellies. But for now, the easy-access compactors are mostly concentrated in the heart of Center City and along the Broad Street and Ben Franklin Parkway corridors.

Here’s a map of where you’ll find them. Happy trash-tossing.

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Danya Henninger

Danya Henninger is director of Billy Penn at WHYY, where she oversees the team, all editorial decisions, and all revenue generation — including the...