Baltimore spending board awards $15 million contract for new street-side trash cans

Baltimore’s spending panel awarded a three-year, $15 million contract for thousands of solar-powered trash cans to a Korean company on Wednesday, rejecting a protest by a losing bidder.

The contract calls for Ecube Labs Co. to install 4,500 of the cans across the city in three stages, starting around the Horseshoe Casino, followed by business districts and then bus stops. It was unclear when the first cans will arrive.

Jeffrey Raymond, a spokesman for the Department of Public Works, said the cans have technology that alerts crews when they’re full, which will “allow us to operate more efficiently.”

The ultimate plan for the cans is for them to be more than a place for pedestrians to throw trash. Raymond said some of them will become Wi-Fi hot spots, providing public internet access.

Michael Son, an Ecube executive, said after the vote that he was “delighted.”

The company hopes to grow in the United States, he said, and might one day open manufacturing operations here. And after winning the contract, Son said, the company plans to open an office in Baltimore.

Boston-based Bigbelly, a losing bidder that has previously done business with the city, protested the contact award before the board, saying Ecube had stolen its technology and would be less effective. A city procurement official said awarding the contract to Ecube would save $4 million.

Rob Kutner, an executive at Bigbelly, also told the board that it manufactures its cans in Detroit, while Ecube makes its overseas.

Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young said he would prefer a U.S.-based company, but he was the only official on the five-member board to vote against awarding the contract.

The competition between the two firms is intense. Last year, they sued each other, each alleging that the other company is violating its patents.

There are 20 Bigbelly cans now installed around the Inner Harbor. Raymond said they will remain despite the company’s losing the new contract.

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