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At $4,300 each, some residents question their economic value.

In its latest effort to go green, the city is testing a new solar-powered waste bin that could revolutionize the way park and sanitation workers collect trash.

The BigBelly Cordless Compaction System may look like just a large, green steel box, but the unit can hold about four times as much as a regular trash can thanks to a device that compresses bulky cups, bottles and plates.

Traditional open trash receptacles need to be emptied twice a day. But the BigBelly machine would only have to be emptied once every four days, according to park officials.

"We have only emptied it twice in nine days," said Cliff Footlick, parks director. "So it does hold a lot of trash."

Another bonus - the system has a lid that users can swing open and close while depositing garbage, so that unsightly smell associated with other trash cans allegedly is not an issue with the BigBelly.

But the units would only work if people actually use them. If parks officials still have to comb the streets to pick up litter, the unit would not be cost-effective, Footlick said.

City officials erected one trial unit at the southwest corner of Second Street and First Avenue N. It will collect trash until mid August, after which the city will evaluate whether the system would be a wise investment.

Constructed of a heavy-gauge galvanized steel, the unit is powered by a 12-volt battery that is kept charged by a solar panel. The battery requires minimal sunlight and is protected from impact, vandalism and graffiti.

Local environmentalists said they had never heard of a BigBelly system and were unsure about its environmental impacts.

These fancy trash cans cost about $4,300 each. The price would be offset by the reduction in man-hours required of parks employees, who could spend the time they previously used to collect trash addressing other concerns, such as cutting grass.

City officials are looking into state grants to cover the costs of the units.

Still, a few residents balked at the price tag.

"This would only be appropriate if in fact they had fewer sanitation workers," said David McKalip, founder of Cut Taxes Now. "That would save a lot of money."

The unit on First Avenue is a demo. The city did not pay for it.

BigBelly is manufactured by Seahorse Power Co. in Needham, Mass. Other cities such as New York, Miami, Jacksonville, Cincinnati and Chicago have either purchased units or are testing them.

Cristina Silva can be reached at (727) 893-8846 or