Study finds that US high-polluting garbage truck sector is shifting from diesel to cleaner natural gas

INFORM, Inc., a US national environmental research organisation, has released the first comprehensive study of the nation’s estimated 179,000 garbage trucks. Much of this fleet, one of the oldest and most polluting in the nation, is operated by (or under contract to) local government agencies or is under contract to those agencies.

The study – Greening Garbage Trucks: New Technologies for Cleaner Air – reveals that, while more than 90 per cent of garbage trucks are powered by traditional diesel engines, a slow but successful shift is taking place as fleet operators in 25 US cities move from diesel to cleaner natural gas. The study calls on government officials at all levels to provide incentives to speed up the transition and thereby safeguard the public’s health.

The study found that garbage trucks are among the oldest, least fuel-efficient, and most polluting fleet vehicles in the United States: There are more than twice as many garbage trucks in the US (179,000) as there are urban transit buses (82,600). The garbage truck fleet includes refuse and recycling collection vehicles as well as transfer trucks. Forty-one per cent of garbage trucks in use are more than 10 years old, nearing the end of their lifetime (12 to14 years), and performing at reduced efficiencies.

Garbage trucks use more fuel than any other type of vehicle – averaging 8,600 gallons pa – except for tractor-trailers and transit buses (which use 11,500 gallons and 10,800 gallons on average per year, respectively).

Garbage trucks in the US consume approximately 1 billion gallons of diesel fuel annually and get the lowest fuel efficiency (2.8 miles per gallon) of any vehicle type. Transit buses, single-unit heavy-duty trucks, and tractor-trailers get 2.9, 7.0, and 6.1 miles per gallon, respectively.

Diesel garbage trucks are a major source of air pollution, including smog-forming compounds, particulate matter, and toxic chemical constituents. While heavy-duty diesel-powered vehicles, including garbage trucks, make up only 7 per cent of vehicles on the road, they contribute 69 per cent of on-road fine particulate pollution and 40 per cent of nitrogen oxide emissions.

Diesel garbage trucks are notoriously loud, generating noise levels of up to 100 decibels, which can cause serious hearing damage. Garbage truck operators, as well as those living along garbage truck routes, are affected by this noise.

The study found that, while some testing of hybrid electric technology and alternative fuels is under way in the garbage truck sector, almost all innovation in the development of alternative-fuel garbage trucks involves the use of natural gas. It also found that – for a variety of reasons including, among others, environmental regulations and court orders, competitive advantages, and environmental leadership – 26 waste collection agencies in 25 US cities have begun to shift from diesel to natural gas, with nearly 700 natural gas trucks in operation today. Much of this shift is taking place in California, where regulations and incentives are driving the market.

The study includes in-depth profiles of 17 of these 26 garbage truck fleets, as well as basic information on the other 9 US fleets. Also included in INFORM’s profiles are fleets in Japan and in the Netherlands, whose initiatives suggest the parallel shift to natural gas trucks that is beginning around the world.

The study includes a series of specific recommendations, outlining steps that should be taken by governments, waste collection agencies, and others to speed the transition of garbage trucks from diesel fuels to natural gas or other alternative fuels.

The final draft copy of the report is available online at


Ano da Publicação: 2002
Fonte: Warmer Bulletin Enews #42-2002
Autor: Kit Strange, Warmer Bulletin
Email do Autor:

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