Talking trash

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August 4, 2003 // UPDATED 11:01 am - April 30, 2007
By: sue rich
sue rich

Yes, that trashcan in City Center really is talking to you

A blonde middle-aged woman smiles as she approaches the special trash bin in the City Center food court. "Now, if you hold [the door] open, it'll talk to you," she instructs her lunch partner.

The second woman swings the door extra-wide open with her tray of refuse. The can says: "We appreciate your assistance with cleaning up the trash."

However, the computerized monotone voice is difficult to discern from the lunchtime drone. The new-to-this-can woman says to her friend, "Isn't that the oddest thing? He talks. But I don't really know what he's talking about."

Most of the time, people merely walking near the can's motion detector trigger the voice. During one weekday noon-hour, many -- mostly men -- just played it cool after setting it off. The voice came on; they hesitated, pretended not to hear anything, looked around to make sure nobody saw them hedge and kept going.

Most people chuck their trash into other, nonverbal bins. But thanks to the motion detector, the can also thanks people for using its competition.

Still, the can receives plenty of attention from children, who poke it to provoke it, and tourists. Joar Fagerdal, visiting from Norway, was simply delighted to feed it. "Good idea," he said, "it speak."

Not that he knows exactly what it's saying.

What the aforementioned trash can said to Skyway, as best we can tell: "We appreciate your assistance with cleaning up the trash," as well as "Thank you for keeping our area clean" and "Thank you for using our environment-friendly receptacle."

Ted Zwieg, City Center property manager, said the most feedback they have regarding the cans is people wondering what it's saying. But the $5,000 can's primary attraction is not its voice. Installed nearly a year ago as a pilot project, the high-tech can tracks its trash and compacts it when it reaches a certain capacity. It can hold roughly four times more than normal receptacles. That translates into fewer maintenance hours and less money spent changing the trash. At least in theory.

"In theory, it works perfectly," Zwieg said.

However, compacted trash is heavy, requiring extra energy and time to haul out, and replacement trash bags are expensive.

Thus, while the fate of the solo talker remains secure, Zwieg said it is highly doubtful similarly vocal friends will join it anytime soon.