Dani Schulman ’20 was on a brisk walk down Chapel Street on Wednesday evening when she paused to look at one of several pairs of new aesthetically pleasing rat-proof, graffiti-proof, solar-powered trash and recycling cans that have been installed around New Haven.

“What I really like about them is that they have trash and recycling next to each other. That’s huge,” said Schulman, a member of several environmental organizations on campus. “When you just have a trash bin on the side of the road, everything’s going to go in there.”

Earlier this year, the city installed solar-powered trash compactors in areas with the heaviest pedestrian traffic in an effort to clean up the city and improve its waste management system. However, the new system has come with challenges: a large percentage of the recycling bins were contaminated with nonrecyclable trash, so the city could not sell the accumulated waste to its recycling contractor, Director of New Haven Parks, Recreation and Trees Rebecca Bombero told the News at the Historic Wooster Square Association’s annual meeting this March.

The new compactors use solar-energy technology to compact trash, allowing the city to remotely monitor how full each container is. According to the Town Green District website, older model trash cans must be emptied seven times a week, but the new trash cans only need to be emptied once a week. It is nine times more expensive to maintain traditional trash cans, the website states.

Virginia Chapman ARC ’85, director of the Yale Office of Sustainability, said in an email that the solar-powered disposal units are a great idea for streamlining city operations, adding that the city’s single-stream recycling system makes recycled items easier to sort.

Reid Lifset SOM ’89, a research scholar at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, said that information technology is becoming increasingly popular in the field of waste management because it can reduce the frequency of collection, saving money and reducing emissions from trucks.

In an email, however, Bombero emphasized the challenges involved in implementing the new system.

“Public recycling in public spaces is new,” she wrote. “Thus far, we have deployed downtown with Town Green, at Long Wharf and in Wooster Square. Public recycling is difficult and we have not had success to compare.”

Although Yale affiliates interviewed said they appreciated the city’s initiative, they also suggested ways to combat the initial contamination of the recycling cans.

Chapman noted that New Haven residents are not yet accustomed to separating waste in public places because they are used to seeing only trash bins. She recommended a public outreach program to accompany the installations, and said that an educational initiative to inform citizens of the economic, health and environmental benefits of recycling could help ensure proper disposal patterns.

Schulman emphasized the need to communicate the benefits and methods of recycling to citizens as a means to both ensure proper waste management and inculcate strong community values about the environment.

“If people don’t know what to recycle, it ruins everything, and that’s tragic,” Schulman said. “But half of anything is policy regulation, and half is always going to be community values and priorities.”

Schulman cited community education and clear signage on the bins as well as updated and visually appealing informational brochures as potential concrete methods for building community interest and dedication toward recycling.

Lifset agreed that signage and public education might encourage residents to properly use the recycling bins.

In her email to the News, Bombero mentioned several current policy measures designed to advance this goal.

“We have been working to integrate recycling education into youth programming, educating neighbors and residents,” she said. “It’s important that people understand if they try to recycle their half-full soda, coffee or greasy pizza box, it minimizes our ability to have that whole bin of recycling processed as recycling.”

The new trash compactors and recycling bins are developed by Bigbelly Smart City Solutions.

Saumya Malhotra | saumya.malhotra@yale.edu