The waste management industry serves over 75 million homes and 7 million businesses, providing an essential service to all Americans – but while this national fleet of garbage trucks collects litter and waste, it also contributes significantly to our country’s pollution problem. Most garbage trucks in the United States currently run on diesel fuel, which pollutes the air and adds to annual carbon emissions levels. In order for the waste management industry to truly fight pollution, garbage trucks should switch to burning natural gas, which emits less greenhouse gases than diesel fuel.
Diesel fuel-powered trucks contribute to air pollution and noise levels, and truck drivers often need to wear headphones to protect themselves against hearing damage. Clean fuel-powered trucks have the potential to reform the garbage industry and greatly reduce America’s air pollution. A report published by INFORM, an organization that explores alternative technologies, estimated that switching to natural gas-powered garbage trucks will reduce air pollution caused by diesel fuel from these trucks by as much as 94 percent, noise levels by up to 98 percent, and water pollution by 100 percent. Common air pollutants emitted from diesel fuel include particulate matter, nitrogen oxides and non-methane hydrocarbons.
There are 179,000 garbage trucks in operation in the U.S. today, and 91 percent of those trucks operate on diesel fuel. One garbage truck’s pollution level is comparable to that of 325 cars. The INFORM report stated that an average garbage truck travels a total of 25,000 miles annually on 8,600 gallons of gas, and that the fleet as a whole uses over 1 billion gallons of fuel every year. These trucks’ fuel economy is less than 3 miles per gallon, and the trucks are in use for an average of 12 years before they are retired, meaning that in their lifespan, the average truck will use 103,200 gallons of fuel. More than 40 percent of garbage trucks are over 10 years old.
Two common forms of natural gas include compressed natural gas and liquefied natural gas, which is already used by some garbage trucks. Liquefied natural gas is a non-toxic, non-corrosive gas (usually methane) that has impurities such as carbon dioxide removed from it through processing. It is lighter than diesel and therefore cheaper to ship. While some are skeptical about the benefits of natural gas, many parties agree that it is more environmentally friendly than diesel fuel and contributes far fewer greenhouse gas emissions.
Southern California already has a ban on diesel-powered trucks in place. A law voted on in 2000 by the South Coast Air Quality Management District requires all garbage trucks and public transit buses added to the fleet after 2001 to run on natural gas instead of diesel. Waste Management Inc., the largest garbage company in the industry, currently operates 1,000 natural gas trucks in multiple states, including California. The company, which uses liquefied biomethane sourced from its own landfills to fuel its clean trucks, plans to continue to expand its environmentally-friendly fleet in the future. Its landfill in Altamont, Calif., provides as much as 13,000 gallons of liquefied natural gas (LNG) per day, a sign of great potential for the garbage industry. Waste Management’s 1,000 trucks eliminate 45,100 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year – if all garbage trucks adopted clean-burning fuel, national carbon emissions from diesel fuel would be reduced.
Encourage local and federal authorities to follow California’s lead by adopting a ban on diesel-powered garbage trucks. ForceChange.com has a petition directed at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) director, Lisa Jackson. Sign this petition or draft a similar petition letter to ask your local government to adopt natural gas-powered garbage trucks in your area!
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