Solar powered trash cans do not pass the smell test. It is claimed that by installing solar panels on a bulky trash can that landfill space is saved and that maybe carbon emissions are reduced. Of course, the places that purchase and use these trash cans seem to not actually measure whether these trash cans deliver on those promises, their existence alone, like a bumper sticker, seems to be as much evidence as anyone needs of their “sustainability.” Beyond that, one would think that the premise of the question be addressed before “investing” in these trash cans too. Are we having a crisis of landfill space in this country? Are landfills major sources of water and air pollution? The objective answers to these questions seem to be no, and it does not take a very exhaustive look at the literature to figure it out.
So here we are celebrating their existence qua existence.
I propose a wrap that advertises how to do the research on whether these trash cans are actually “sustainable” whatever that definition means.
How do we know solar powered trash cans are actually sustainable? Have we evaluated the number of truck trips saved? With actual data and proper statistical controls? Whether the carbon and landfill attenuation that may be attributed to them have been worth the $4000+ that each unit costs? How about the life cycle impacts of their construction especially the solar panels and their subsequent disposal? Could the $4000+ that each unit costs (plus maintenance) have been used to better foster sustainability? Or be used to fund financial aid for students in need, particularly those traditionally underrepresented?
On that last note, I have read Kendi’s work. He says every policy can be described as either racist or anti-racist, there is no other option from the drop-down menu. If the policy reduces inequities it is antiracist. If it does not, it is racist. By his reckoning, wouldn’t the purchase of extremely expensive trash cans at an elite university have to be declared racist? If not, then why not? Would we have done the research showing how the purchase of these trash cans advances the cause of racial equality and how spending thousands and thousands of dollars on green symbolism doesn’t come at the expense of those funds being used to advance truly anti-racist programs?