Trash cans as works of art? That’s the idea that may bring high-tech Bigbelly trash compactors to Buckhead streets.

A Bigbelly trash can painted as a “Litter Critter” during a 2011 unveiling in Philadelphia. (Photo Philadelphia Streets Department)

Massachusetts-based Bigbelly makes the solar-powered public trash cans that squeeze garbage and use a wireless signal to alert sanitation crews when they’re full. Operating in various cities around the world, Bigbellies are said to reduce trash-spilling and make garbage collection more efficient.

The city of Atlanta wants to bring Bigbellies to town, including in Buckhead. But the Buckhead Community Improvement District’s board has hesitated. One reason: Bigbelly’s standard money-making model includes putting advertising on the trash cans. Some CID board members say that’s a billboard type of look they don’t want on Buckhead streets.

At the July 6 CID board meeting, Executive Director Jim Durrett said an alternative idea is in discussion: decorating the Bigbellies with mural art sponsored by someone, rather than regular advertising.

Artwork on Bigbellies has been done before in such cities as Philadelphia, where the art was provided by a city mural program. CID board member Thad Ellis of Cousins Properties said he recently saw some decorated Bigbellies in Raleigh, N.C.

“I came away very positive,” he said. “It was very tasteful.”

Sally Silver, an aide to City Councilmember Howard Shook, noted that there’s another concern: how good the city would be at picking up that compacted trash. Today’s regular public trash cans within the CID are emptied by a CID-hired private contractor. The Bigbellies would be handled by the city’s Department of Public Works, and Silver said that Shook’s office gets complaints about regular city trash pick-up today.

CID staff member Tony Peters and Livable Buckhead Executive Director Denise Starling will continue Bigbelly discussions with the city, Durrett said.

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.