Green Energy Coming to the Motor City Via Trash Compactors

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The Motor City will soon be seeing a green energy initiative piloted by DTE Energy. The Detroit-based company will be placing seven solar-powered trash compactors and recycling units in downtown Detroit — a city known for its heavy usage of fossil fuels.

The units, made by MA-based company Bigbelly, will be able to collect and compact plastic, aluminum, and other waste on-site. The battery in each compactor will use energy from the sun, collected via solar panels, and can send out a signal to the Waste Management of Michigan when it needs to be emptied.

David Meador, Vice Chairman and Chief Administrative Officer for DTE, says that by cutting down on trash overflow, this project helps beautify Detroit neighborhoods and keep pests away. The system should dramatically reduce trash collections and therefore, reduce vehicle carbon emissions.

“We believe the Bigbelly project will be good for our customers, our employees and the Detroit neighborhood where we are based and the larger Detroit community we serve. We hope other companies will consider these cost-effective units,” said Meador.

This project signals a shift in green energy thinking. Solar energy was once believed to be too expensive and inefficient to be a smart choice, but with the cost of solar panels down 80% since 2008, that is no longer the case.

“It’s not like it changes things overnight,” said John Sarver, president of the board of directors of the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association. The power generated from the new solar project is still tiny, in comparison to a nuclear plant, which generate hundreds, even thousands, of megawatts. “It’s more of an indication of a trend.”

DTE Energy will place three of the compactors downtown, and four at its headquarters. The downtown units will be located at the Third Street bus stop across from the MGM Grand Detroit; the Navitas House office building at Bagley Avenue and Third Street; and in DTE’s food truck area near its entrance. All of them will be installed and maintained by Waste Management. After a review of the pilot project at a later date, more may be installed.

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