By Steve Tawa

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The City Controller says those Bigbelly trash compactors around Philadelphia are in a sorry state. And, he claims, they’re not working as advertised. But city officials strongly disagree with his findings.

The Bigbelly Solar compactors created a buzz when first installed in Center City in 2009.

They were supposed to be smarter than those old wire mesh trash receptacles that were always overflowing, and were intended to make our streets cleaner, save money, and improve the environment.

But, Controller Alan Butkovitz is trashing the system.

“While the Bigbellys were promoted as a tool to reduce the collection rate, with their ability to store more trash, there’s been no sufficient documentation to substantiate any financial savings,” Butkovitz said.

img 6866 City Controller Trashes Philadelphia Bigbelly Compactors

(credit: Steve Tawa)

Butkovitz says there’s no viable work order and maintenance tracking system, and the original Bigbellys, many of which he says are disgusting, are reaching their life expectancy.

Streets Commissioner Carlton Williams disputes Butkovitz’s claims that the Streets Department has not done a comprehensive cost benefit analysis.

“We’re saving about $650,000 per year with the decreased collection costs,” said Williams.

Williams says they’ve reduced the frequency of collections from 17 per week at the old litter bins, to 3.5 per week at each Bigbelly.

“And that’s because of the collection efficiencies of the Bigbelly unit, allowing us to maximize five times as much trash in a unit, as opposed to a wire basket,” he said.

Williams acknowledges that the city did not account for some of the ongoing maintenance issues, high usage, and vandalism. He says the new contract, just approved by City Council, calls on the company, not the city, to clean and maintain the units, at no cost to the city.

And, he says, the compactors will be placed on a routine inspection schedule.

Butkovitz also says its software system is supposed to notify crews when trash compactors are full, but because of a significant outage for the last six months, more than eight-of-ten units have had no communication.

Williams says that’s true, because AT&T shut down the 2G network, and the Streets Department is in the process of upgrading the Bigbelly’s network system to a new 3G network.

There’s also good news for those with a phobia about pulling the handles on Bigbellys to load in trash. Williams says the city will acquire 275 brand new units with foot peddles.

“At no cost to the taxpayer, in exchange for the rights to advertise on the Bigbellies. The majority of the new units will be placed in Center City, with the foot peddles,” Williams said.

As for why the foot pedals make such a big difference:

“Sanitary reasons. They get mucked up with garbage, and people don’t want to touch them,” Williams explained.

Philadelphia was the first big city to use the Bigbelly units in large numbers. There are 975 Bigbellies citywide, including 475 in Center City.