Environmental Strategies

The City of Charlotte, NC Solid Waste Services Department: Serving Their Community through Green Eyes

Esperanza Dash

The City of Charlotte, NC metro area has consistently ranked in the Top 10 for cities with the worst air quality. As the city sought to decrease their carbon footprint, they looked to Solid Waste Services (SWS) for answers. Air quality is a shared resource, and all sectors of society bear a responsibility for improving air quality and protecting our natural resources. Broad availability and the use of cleaner fuel vehicles are essential components to reducing mobile source emissions to provide a better air quality. Many reports and studies have shown that to ensure clean and reliable air along with affordable energy supply, new strategies must be developed to address issues with the amount of pollutants emitted in the air and its negative impact on public health and the environment.

Nationally, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil fuel combustion represented the largest source of total emissions from all emission sources in 2008 (EPA 2010). It represents the largest share of U.S. total greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) within North Carolina. Moreover, medium and heavy-duty trucks account for approximately 6 percent of total anthropogenic GHG in the U. S.

As the City of Charlotte looked to become leaders in safeguarding the environment, it consistently sought ways to reduce costs, stay competitive and promote sustainable programs. SWS believed that in order to accomplish this there was a need to re-evaluate the way business was conducted and create a better, more efficient business operating model. As an outcome, SWS created a potentially more efficient organizational structure for the department which included changing the old processes and implementing new methods used to provide service to Charlotte residents.

Greening the Bottom Line

Reducing carbon footprint through fleet operations has become a growing trend, with nearly half of private and public sector fleets measuring emissions, up from 28 percent in 2008, according to the results of a recent industry survey. For several corporate fleets who have cut down on GHG emissions, their strategiesrange from idling reduction to improving driver behavior to maximize fuel efficiency.

The most important environmental decision a fleet manager makes is the number and type of vehicles to have in the fleet. Minor changes in vehicle operation and selection can result in significant environmental, financial and operational benefits over time. Through the reorganization of the department and its operational changes, SWS was able to take 22 collection vehicles out of service. This potentially reduced emissions by 3,560 metric tons of CO2 per month, making it equivalent to 42,720 metric tons of CO2 reduced annually.

By looking for sustainable opportunities, SWS began conducting a pilot study a year ago to determine if compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles were a viable option for the department. The trucks were purchased with the assistance of an NCDENR Mobile Source Emissions Grant approved for appropriation by Council in 2009. The CNG vehicle reduced 15 pounds of criteria pollutants and GHG emissions per vehicle per day. This resulted in a reduction of 7,200 pounds of criteria pollutants and GHG over a year for the two pilot CNG trucks. It also had an overall savings of $2.34 per gallon of fuel consumed and an overall savings of $34 a day per CNG vehicle which equals approximately $8,840 a year. In addition, SWS had a fuel savings of $32,000 along with a maintenance savings of $39,000 for CNG trucks which resulted in a total savings of $71,000.

As a fuel savings and GHG reduction initiative, SWS also provided safety outreach training to employees to introduce a reduced idling and fuel consumption best practice. SWS focused on education and outreach to achieve compliance with the idle reduction and loitering rule. Under this strategy, sanitation equipment operators will not idle their vehicles for extended periods of time. Drivers are instructed to simply turn off engines. The practice makes for allowances for cases when idling may be necessary. By doing this, it reduces fuel consumption costs and decreases emissions of carbon dioxide.

SWS specifically targets reducing vehicle emissions across the department by taking advantage of low emission fuel technologies. In combination with more stringent user practices of anti-idling, proper vehicle maintenance and operation and vehicle sharing, this has resulted in lower fuel consumption and vehicle emissions. In FY10, SWS consumed 675,319.91 gallons of diesel fuel. However, in FY11 after restructuring and reorganizing the department, SWS consumed 647,342.37 gallons of fuel with 27,977.55 less fuel.

Reorganizing for Success

SWS made a commitment to look into ways in which it could contribute to humanizing air quality, accumulate money and improve efficiency. In an effort to achieve this, SWS began investigating and researching for solutions. SWS concluded that one answer was changing the way the city collected garbage, recyclables, yard waste and bulky items. The other answer was to implement single-stream recycling that will divert garbage from our landfills. These changes were done through a reorganization of the Solid Waste department.

By changing the way refuse and recyclables were collected from a managed competition model to a business service operation model, SWS saved around $789,000 for FY11 with a projected 10-year cost savings/cost avoidance of approximately $43.3 million. Since the transition to single-stream recycling a year ago, SWS has noticed a 30 percent increase in residential recycling tonnage. This exceeded the goal of 20 percent established for the first year of single-stream recycling. In addition to the increase in recyclables collected, SWS also noted the overall single-family recycling participation rate is now 50 percent, meaning approximately half of all households are setting recyclables out on their collection day. This is an increase of 19 percent as compared to last year’s participation rate of 42 percent. Also noted during the first year of single-stream recycling was that garbage tonnage decreased by approximately 7 percent. This diversion of about 10,342 tons of material from the landfill produced landfill disposal savings of approximately $274,000. These changes produced to opportunities that contributed to greening our bottom line.

Successful Green Alternatives

SWS is proud that the departmental reorganization and single-stream recycling changes implemented a year ago were successful and a first year savings of over $3.1 million for the City. “Broad changes in organizational design and service strategy provided substantial decrease in GHG emissions; substantial combination of cost savings and cost containment as well as service quality improvements, fuel consumption savings in gallons, improved routing and economies of scale,” says Victoria Garland-Johnson, SWS’ Key Business Executive.

Additionally, the combined reduction of trucks related to implementation of the reorganization strategy and implementation of bi-weekly recycling collection means that 22 fewer trucks will be on the road. This resulted in lower emissions in Charlotte’s communities and supports SWS’ greater “Go Green” initiative. SWS also looks to explore using other options such as more hybrid and/or flexible fuel vehicles as replacement vehicles for administrative staff designated to positions which require the use of a City assigned vehicle. SWS will continue to look towards other green alternatives as it relates to future opportunities of purchasing alternative fuel and hybrid vehicles.

The Future of “Going Green”

There are a number of “green“ initiatives, beyond single-stream recycling that SWS is currently working on and expects to continue developing during the coming year such as the purchase of four additional compressed natural gas vehicles. SWS is excited about the possibility of the future and will continue to look for “green” opportunities to make use of them on a broader scale.

Esperanza Dash is SWS Waste Reduction and Recycling Analyst for the City of Charlotte, NC Solid Waste Services Department. For more information, visit www.curbit.charlottenc.gov.