by Wesley Ratko

Solar Powered Trash Cans

Representatives from Green in Chestnut Hill (known as GRinCH) made a pitch for the acquisition and placement of so-called “Big Belly” solar-powered trash compactor receptacles along Germantown Avenue in Chestnut Hill to the Chestnut Hill community Association’s Land Use Planning and Zoning Committee on Thursday, April 7.

GRinCH founder Amy Edelman and member Linda Rauscher described the cans, explained the reasons for having them and took questions from the committee.

According to Rauscher, the units have a solar panel on the top that powers a compactor, which allows the 32 gallon bin to hold five times the trash as the typical receptacle (up to 200 gallons).  A sensor in the unit alerts the Streets Department by text message when the can is full and requires emptying.  A similar, connected  unit collects recyclables in a manner that encourages proper separation of cans, bottles, and paper.

Rauscher said that 15 units are being made available to Chestnut Hill at no cost to the community, some as individual trash or recycling bins and some as a paired unit.  Rauscher and Edelman were unsure how many of those 15 were trash bins, how many were recycling bins and whether a paired unit counts as one or two of the 15.

The benefits include a reduction in the number of garbage truck trips moving up and down the Avenue and the introduction of non-commercial recycling to the Hill.

GRinCH, a non-profit group of Northwest Philadelphia residents and business people that focuses on community outreach on environmental issues and green initiatives, worked with the Philadelphia Streets Department, the Business Improvement District, and the Community Association to get the receptacles along the Avenue in Chestnut Hill free of charge.

“The City has been very gracious about working with us,” Rauscher said.

As part of a pilot program, the first “Big Belly” solar trash compactors were placed in front of the Night Kitchen Bakery at 7725 Germantown Ave. on March 3.  Edelman, owner of Night Kitchen, said she’s received no complaints about them since their arrival.

A major factor in deciding where to place the units is their appearance.

“I don’t find them offensive,” said Rauscher, “but some people find them offensive and this is what we have to work with.”

Without adornment, the units are dark brown in color, but for $450, a vinyl wrap can be applied to all of the cans to change their appearance to whatever the community desires.  As an alternative, frames that allow for ads to be placed on the sides are also available.  Costs for either of these options would not be covered by the Streets Department and would need to come from the CHCA or some other local source.

For some, however, no adornment would be sufficient to make the cans appealing.

Jennifer Hawk, executive director of the Chestnut Hill Historical Society, expressed concern about the cans.

“What makes Chestnut Hill special is its unique, historic village charm, and the atmosphere of that village is an important part of our value here,” she said.  While she expressed support for efforts to get recycling on the Hill, she cautioned that the cans could negatively impact the village character along Germantown Avenue.

“As you look down the Avenue, these are definitely going to make a visual impact,” she said.

Hawk also raised the question of who owns the current cans and whether or not that ownership would affect whether or not they can be removed and replaced at all.

“I think that the historical society put in some money, as did many groups,” Hawk said.  “One thing that you probably need to keep in mind, particularly from a non-profit point of view, is that somewhere in there, charitable contributions to those,organizations paid for these. You need to keep in mind your donor intent.”

Chestnut Hill Resident and CHCA Board Member Tom Hemphill expressed support for the cans.

“Here the city is finally willing to do something for us without any cost to the community and I can’t imagine why the community wouldn’t accept it.”  he said.

Hemphill said he frequently notices that trash bins on the corner of Germantown and Evergreen avenues are often filled to overflowing, especially after the weekend.  This results in an unsanitary condition, with trash being blown around by the wind.

“I am so in favor of these I can’t begin to tell you, and I know any number of my neighbors are of the same feeling,” he said.

When asked about the time frame for letting the City know where the CHCA preferred the cans to be placed, Rauscher said that while no concrete deadline existed, sooner rather than later would be good.

“My sense is we don’t have forever to do this,” she said.

Committee member John Landis suggested that the LUPZ form a committee to work with GRinCH to determine where the cans should be placed.  He added that the committee needs answers to additional outstanding questions about whether the city would respond to and clean up graffiti or defacement of the cans, confirm the number of units that will be made available to Chestnut Hill, and ownership of the cans now in use along the Avenue.

Landis concluded by thanking Rauscher and Edelman for their work.

“I want to go on record as saying ‘Thank you very much,’” he said.

“We really appreciate your leadership and we really appreciate that you’re trying to do the best thing for all of us.”

A follow-up presentation is expected at the May meeting.

Changes to Philadelphia Zoning Code

Debate continued Thursday night regarding how the changes to the new zoning code – specifically those sections dealing with a developer-applicant’s responsibilities for presenting plans to “recognized community organizations” – would impact the process now in use by the CHCA.

The Committee moved to write a letter – to be signed by CHCA President Walter Sullivan – requesting that the city’s Zoning Code Commission include language in the new code that would place a greater emphasis on existing development review processes now practiced by several Philadelphia community groups.

Committee member Ned Mittinger asked whether language that would recognize other community organization would effect the make-up of the Development Review Committee.

John Landis suggested that another meeting with Zoning Code Commission Executive Director Eva Gladstein would help to clarify some of the confusion.