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NATO summit prompts city to remove solar-powered garbage barrels

By John Byrne, Chicago Tribune –

CHICAGO—Expensive solar-powered garbage receptacles are being removed from around downtown Chicago before next month’s NATO summit in favor of wire trash cans that police can more easily check for anything dangerous.

The BigBelly garbage and recycling barrels with trash compactors were touted by Mayor Richard M. Daley’s administration as a way to save costs on pickups and generate ad revenue while fitting with the former mayor’s oft-spoken commitment to environmental issues. About 400 of them are on street corners, mostly downtown, said Anne Sheahan, spokeswoman for the city Department of Streets and Sanitation.

The problem is that the BigBelly cans — sometimes called “smart cans” because they send emails to let workers know when they need emptying — are opaque and covered, making it impossible to tell what’s inside by looking at them. The city is preparing for large crowds of NATO protesters during the May 20-21 international summit at McCormick Place.

Chicago police have directed city crews to begin replacing the BigBelly cans “within the expected footprint of the NATO event” with the kinds of open-wire basket garbage cans found on other streets around the city, Sheahan said in an email.

“The BigBellys are being replaced as part of a routine public safety measure,” she said. The city already owns the wire cans, and will not need to buy more, she said.

So far, about 40 of the solar trash compactors have been pulled, said Sheahan, who would not specify how many will be replaced or when they will return to the streets. “The BigBellys will be returned when the city’s public safety departments have deemed it appropriate to do so,” Sheahan said.

Tthe city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications has requested bids from companies to provide blast-resistant garbage cans. The city wants those cans to “protect people, facilities and assets from various explosion aftermath including fireballs,” according to a city document asking for quotes.

These cans were to replace other blast-resistant cans already in place at sensitive locations around the city and were unrelated to the NATO summit, said Jennifer Hoyle, a spokeswoman for Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

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