Open a phonebook in England and you’ll find several companies that specialize in cleaning trash bins.

However, it’s a different story when you cross the Atlantic Ocean, said Simi Bhachu, owner of VIP Bin Cleaning USA’s master franchise in the San Francisco Bay area.

VIP Bin Cleaning launched in the United Kingdom in 1997 and has since opened franchises around the world in places such as South Africa, Belgium, Australia and Canada.

Bhachu, an England native who moved to the U.S. in 2004, estimates that trash can cleaning has been a common practice in the U.K. for at least two decades.

But once she began operations in 2007, Bhachu found that her customers in Pleasanton and Dublin, Calif., had to be educated on the service’s benefits.

“It’s a concept that’s not well established in the U.S.,” she said.

Instead of people cleaning their own cans and potentially contaminating groundwater supplies by dumping gallons of tainted water on the curb, people can call companies like VIP Bin Cleaning that use four times less water during cleanup while ensuring that none of the wastewater ends up in storm drains.

Trash cans are placed in VIP’s mobile cleaning units where they are sprayed with a pressurized hose and deodorized with a cherry-scented solution that retains its smell for a month.

The mobile units use 66 gallons of water, which is good for cleaning around 150 bins.

Bhachu said mechanisms in the units retain the water for reuse throughout a shift. The water is bought from a local water treatment facility and returned to the plant at the end of each work day.

“I think it will gain traction here,” Bhachu said. “We have so many inquiries all over the country. People see it as a good business model.”

A pleasant smelling bin is especially important for those who live in places where containers have to be kept in garages, she said.

In the Bay Area, Bhachu said residents are required to separate their food scraps for composting, so conditions in those bins can be gross at times.

“You can imagine the state of [compost bins] after a couple of weeks,” said Bhachu, who recommends at least one cleaning per month. “Once we service the can, if you keep on top of it and have the service done regularly, you eliminate the whole problem.”

Bhachu said there isn’t a particular age demographic that utilizes VIP’s services with customers ranging from young couples with children to the elderly. The company thrives with townhouses, apartments, single-family homes and schools.

“We were thinking the higher-end homes would be our target markets, but that’s not true at all,” she said.

Cleaning garbage bins with bleach and dumping the remnants in a storm drain may be convenient, but it isn’t best option for the environment, said Jay Price, who runs a Mr. Clean-A-Can franchise in Nicholasville, Ky.

That wastewater is home to bacteria and chemicals that could endanger groundwater sources, Price said.

Mr. Clean-A-Can is a national operation with seven franchises in Kentucky, California and Florida.

“We try to do a simple service and do a good job at it,” Price said. “It’s going good. The hardest part is spreading the news about why we do what we do.”

The cans are placed in the back of the company’s hydraulic-assisted trucks, which do the majority of the work.

The trucks utilize an on-board cleaning device that disinfects the bins while retaining leftover water in a filtration system. A biodegradable chemical also keeps the water clean so it can be reused.

Technicians then spray the bins with a deodorizer that kills odor-emitting enzymes.

The wastewater is later disposed at a wastewater treatment facility, Price said.

In addition to residential cleanings, the company also sanitizes 95-gallon trash carts for waste haulers such as Waste Management Inc., Republic Services Inc. and Veolia Environmental Services.

“All of that gunk out of the trash bins is being put into the street and running back into the creek,” he said. “Conservatively, there are a couple billion gallons of water going down into the storm drains contaminated with chemicals and nasty bacteria.”

While VIP Bin Cleaning and Mr. Clean-A-Can spread the bin-cleaning culture, Shelia Herrera of Clean Can Technology in Farmington, N.M. is looking to get in on the action by selling her 2007 patent of a fully-automated cleaning truck.

The truck, which will have a fully-contained water filter for wastewater reuse, can lift a bin while sanitizing its interior and exterior in a process that will take less than one minute.

To craft a design, Herrera partnered with NASA’s Space Alliance Technology Outreach Program, Sandia National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Manufacturing Extension Partnership.

She said a prototype should be built within the next six to eight months.

“I have a team of engineers and we’re working on our funding right now with some investors,” Herrera said. “We have a great design.”

Contact Waste & Recycling News reporter Vince Bond Jr. at vbond@crain.com or 313-446-1653

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