The Smart Waste & Recycling Solution

University of Washington Seattle

Project Description

Case Study: University of Washington-Seattle


Setting Up for Success

IUW Seattle - 2n 2011, the University of Washington–Seattle was exploring alternative waste and recycling platforms for their campus, with Emily Newcomer, the University’s Recycling Program Manager, leading the initiative. Newcomer was seeking a solution that was easy to service, created less litter, saved staff time, and helped divert recycling and compostables. These criteria led them to Bigbelly.

Initially, Newcomer was more familiar with the Bigbelly compactor used in many of the surrounding communities. She was most attracted to the enclosed design because their existing outdoor litter containers were wide open, “which allowed birds and rodents to pull garbage and recycling out of the containers and spread it around campus.”

However, the non-compacting SmartBelly component and its ability to be customized for recycling and composting provided an opportunity to introduce public area composting to the campus community.

There were multiple campus departments beyond the recycling program involved in the conversation, including the grounds department, landscape architecture, food services and environmental health and safety. Newcomer pitched a pilot deployment of seven Bigbelly+SmartBelly Triple Stations for waste, recycling and compostables, to replace 35 traditional bins in Red Square, a high-traffic area where many events are held and much food is consumed.

Initially, the stakeholders raised concerns about the color of the stations and how they didn’t blend well with the campus buildings. While there were some aesthetic concerns, Newcomer knew that if the success criteria were met, the campus would be hooked and there would be a strong argument to expand.

Leveraging the Data

Previously, Red Square’s 35 bins were collected twice per day, with each collection taking 90 minutes. After implementing the Bigbelly system, Newcomer was able to log in to the CLEAN Management Console and receive email notifications, “immediately knowing which containers needed to be serviced, rather than having to drive to each one and check.”

Newcomer was the first to admit that she “didn’t really appreciate CLEAN” until she was actually using it, but with this easy technology, collections were reduced to once or twice per week and the collection time was reduced to only 30 minutes.

Capturing Compostables

“The only thing contaminated is the garbage… Compost is clean.” UW was the first Bigbelly customer to deploy stations with a composting option. Newcomer liked that the stations have clearly delineated waste streams with color-coded openings and messaging panels that her department could use to further educate and raise awareness.

The stations have been such a success that in the first six months, Newcomer’s department has realized a 57% diversion by volume of compostable material, and more than 73% total diversion (compostables and recycling).

After analyzing these numbers, Newcomer noticed that “the only thing contaminated is the garbage… Compost is clean.” Just as importantly, there have been no hauler complaints.

Engaging the Community

Since being deployed, the Bigbelly stations have been successful at increasing the awareness and credibility of their campus recycling and composting program, mirroring other initiatives across campus and in the City.

Regarding the student reception, Newcomer enthusiastically exclaimed, “The UW campus loves them! They think the solar aspect is cool and students especially were excited to start seeing more compost containers on campus. People have been asking for it for years.”

Cutting Critter Clean-Up

“The reduction in overflow and incidental litter far exceeded our expectations–and the grounds crew’s–expectations.”

Before the Bigbelly system was deployed, the grounds crew spent time each morning picking up incidental litter scattered by the pests freely rummaging through open-top bins. That operation has been scaled back from 10 hours per week to 2.5 hours per week, representing a 75% savings in labor hours.

“The reduction in overflow and incidental litter far exceeded our expectations–and the grounds crew’s–expectations,” said Newcomer.

Expanding the Pilot

“The HUB had taken great strides to make the inside of their building as green as possible so it made sense to provide these containers exterior to the building.”
The Student Union was the next target for Bigbelly, as it has the second busiest outdoor public-use area on campus. At that time, “the HUB” was being remodeled and expanded, so Newcomer was able to secure funding directly from the renovation budget. “The HUB had taken great strides to make the inside of their building as green as possible so it made sense to provide these containers exterior to the building.”

The University has subsequently purchased 22 more stations to place across campus, and Newcomer is expecting to see “further savings in time spent servicing containers, further reduction in incidental litter accumulation (another time savings) and continued increase in waste diversion.”

Customizing the Solution

Newcomer advises others considering Bigbelly to “really look at your waste stream and target areas on campus that can benefit from the Bigbelly system. You want the containers to help you achieve your overall goals. For us, our goals were increased waste diversion and reduction of overflow and incidental litter. For others, it could be labor savings.”

Finally, Newcomer recommends that organizations “re-think how your outdoors litter collection system is set up. Just because you have 100 traditional cans doesn’t mean you need that many Bigbelly Stations,” she added, noting that their 13 Bigbelly Stations replaced 60 traditional cans with no repercussions.


“As a public institution, our budget was extremely limited, and our unit’s operating budget is extremely small,” said Newcomer. This has forced Newcomer to be more strategic in how she secures financing. One approach she has taken is to make the three-component station the campus standard for exterior litter bins.

As the campus standard, all new or renovated building projects that have an outdoor space will need to consider the Bigbelly Stations as their option for public area waste, recycling and compost collections.

Another obstacle was having stakeholders see past the different look and feel of the Bigbelly stations as fitting into an old and photogenic campus. There were some hidden costs (installation of concrete pads – pulling brick), “but the benefits made it worth it” said Newcomer.

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