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Solar trash compactors part of campus scene at Appalachian

CStepp3_t.jpgBOONE—Solar-powered trash compactors are now part of the Appalachian State University campus thanks to the student-led Renewable Energy Initiative (REI).

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Renewable Energy Initiative Vice Chair Caitlin Stepp stands next to one of four Big Belly solar-powered trash compactors located on Appalachian State University’s campus. A photovoltaic panel that is part of the unit converts sunlight to electricity, which is stored in a 12-volt battery and used to power the compactor. The compactors will reduce the frequency in which trash collection vehicles are used around the center of campus and help reduce the university’s carbon footprint, Stepp said.

Four solar compactors have been located in the center of campus along Sanford Mall and near Belk Library and Information Commons and D.D. Dougherty Hall, areas of high student, faculty and staff traffic.

The compactors were purchased with funds generated through a $5 a semester REI fee paid by students. The fee has funded several sustainable or renewable energy focused projects on campus, including photovoltaic (PV) panels in front of Raley Hall and a solar thermal system on Plemmons Student Union. The fee also helped with the purchase of a wind turbine located behind the Broyhill Inn and Conference Center on campus.

“REI’s mission is to reduce Appalachian’s carbon footprint by replacing the university’s existing energy sources with cleaner forms of renewable energy,” said Caitlin Stepp, REI vice chair and a senior sustainable development and political science major. “The compactors are one way to reduce carbon emissions by reducing the frequency in which trash collection vehicles are used around the center of campus.”

She said the compactors are a more hands-on use of solar energy technology than other systems on campus and a good way to educate students about the university’s focus on sustainability.

The trash container automatically compresses its contents when a certain weight is reached. The unit also contains a recycling container for plastic and aluminum beverage containers to encourage more recycling on campus and decrease the amount of trash taken to the landfill.

The compactors have a small PV system that converts sunlight to energy that then is used to compact the trash. A 12-volt DC system stores the energy to operate the unit on cloudy days.

“The solar compactors are common on college campuses across the U.S., and can be found internationally,” Stepp said.

The units at Appalachian were selected for their efficiency and reliability. “They use about the same amount of energy on an average day as it takes to make a piece of toast,” she said.

Katie Cavert, a recent Department of Technology graduate student and former REI member had seen similar units in downtown Boone and proposed purchasing the Big Belly units, which were installed on campus prior to the beginning of fall semester.

Stepp said students are welcome to attend REI meetings and suggest future projects. REI projects under consideration for future funding include installing PV panels on the overhang of the bus stop near the College Street parking deck.

For more information about REI, visit