Trash Compactor Contract Filthy, Controller Says

Ever wonder about those bulky trash compactors found on downtown sidewalks? You’re not the only one.

City Controller Alan Butkovitz released findings today from an investigation into the purchase and deployment of BigBelly Solar Compactors, and it ain’t pretty. The controller said that the projected savings from reduced collection costs are not being realized, and worse, the city didn’t do its homework before entering into the contract.

“We believe due diligence was absent in this $2.1 million contract purchase,” Butkovitz said.

The city gave BigBelly Solar a sole source contract to install the trash compactors, without verifying any of BigBelly’s claims. “We found that BigBelly Solar provided false information to the city by stating it was the only source able to sell the product to the city,” the controller said.

In fact, although BigBelly is the only manufacturer of the solar compactors, the city could have saved $200,000 by buying the units from a distributor, the investigation found.

Butkovitz confirmed his position that the city violated the restriction on sole source vending, since other vendors were available. However, the controller said he would not attempt to stop payment on the contract at this time, instead seeking renegotiation and a refund through the city solicitor.

The controller listed other problems with the contract, like the fact that the city was paying for compactors that haven’t been delivered yet, including interest charges.

The compactors were supposed to create $13 million in savings over ten years because they hold more trash, reducing the number of collections necessary. However, while the city projected lowering collection frequency from 17 trips a week to five, in reality workers are still averaging 10 collections per week.

The controller had not quantified the actual dollars involved, since estimates haven’t taken into account maintenance, repairs and the learning curve for Streets Department employees.

“Because of the complexity of these units and the lack of training for Streets Department personnel, additional time and a second Streets Department employee was required to empty these compactors and replace their internal trash bags,” Butkovitz said.

The solar compactors cost $3,700 each, as opposed to $100 for the familiar wire trash cans.

Hopefully the city is still saving some money from all this, but it’s safe to say we aren’t on track to score $13 million.

What’s more, we aren’t even using all the compactors we have. The city originally bought 501 compactors in April 2009 and still hasn’t deployed 31 of them, in addition to another 220 units purchased last December not yet in use.

“Savings, if any, can not be realized with the compactors sitting in the warehouse,” the controller’s report said.

And there are more on the way. “To date the city has purchased 768 BigBelly compactor units– with plans to purchase another 397 for a total cost of approximately $5 million. This total cost also includes 510 recycling units,” Butkovitz said.

He recommended that the city perform a cost savings analysis, improve training and review its contract with BigBelly to request a price reduction before paying for any more compactors.

Streets Department spokesperson June Cantor said the office requested a copy of the controller’s report but hasn’t yet seen it, so they can’t comment on the findings.

Our editor’s response to the news? “I hate those trash cans. They have handles that aren’t automatic and people are forced to touch them. Which is utterly disgusting.”

The controller seemed to agree. “Requiring citizens to grasp a possible germ infested unsanitary handle to dispose of trash may not encourage use of these trash receptacles,” the report said.

Gross.

6 Responses to “ Trash Compactor Contract Filthy, Controller Says ”

  1. WillShortz says:

    While I agree that they need to be cleaned more, how do we quantify the fact they keep homeless folks from throwing all kinds of trash onto our sidewalks, and that our City actually appears cleaner than before. Could we also include the labor savings of reduced CCD staff? I have to think the amount of litter that needs to be manually swept up must be down as well.

  2. Larry W says:

    I’m happy with the recycling units myself. :)

  3. Beth says:

    The problem is with the contract, not the litter. Though I’m glad the city is making recycling easier.

  4. [...] the City Controller just released a due diligence report claiming that the city’s much-heralded solar-powered trash compactors haven’t produced their promised [...]

  5. I’m very skeptical on the whole idea of solar powered trash collecting. Won’t be surprised one bit when this proves to be a fiscal drain for every city that purchases BigBelly products

    http://rhymeandreasonable.com/2011/06/07/what-the-hell-is-a-bigbelly-solar-compactor/

  6. [...] they didn’t read this news report: The controller had not quantified the actual dollars involved, since estimates haven’t taken [...]

Leave a Reply

Follow PW

Got a news tip?

If you see something interesting, odd, funny or, of course, illegal, let us know by emailing tips@philadelphiaweekly.com