As the refuse collection industry turns to electrification, momentum will grow to push the refuse collection industry toward green technologies for their trucks.
By Michael Stafford

The rapid pace of change in our world sometimes makes it hard to grasp the importance of new technologies and their integration into our everyday lives. Yet, what many have called the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” is happening right under our noses and its most visible sign is the emergence of battery electric vehicles, including trucks.
Refuse collection is a good fit for this electric transformation. The work patterns of a refuse truck are regular and predictable. Range requirements are known upfront, and the start-stop nature of the work lends itself to regenerative braking, allowing energy to be recaptured.

However, this industrial revolution is slow in coming to the refuse industry. Of the approximately 1,200 heavy-duty electric trucks deployed across the U.S., about 2 percent, just a couple of dozen, are refuse trucks, according to a report by CalSTART, a nonprofit organization working with businesses and governments to develop clean, efficient transportation solutions. That is about to change—and should change.

BYD 8R | Hard at Work. Photo courtesy of BYD.

The Momentum is Growing
Like a snowball rolling downhill, the momentum will grow to push the refuse collection industry towards green technologies for their trucks. This push will come largely from federal and state regulatory agencies seeking to clean our air, disadvantaged communities demanding environmental justice, and from the potential to improve bottom lines through lower maintenance and fuel costs.

While there are those who doubt climate change, there is no doubt that regulatory agencies firmly believe it is real and are working to address it. This will prompt the refuse industry to take a harder look at green solutions. Just recently, the Biden Administration announced it was proposing new rules to slash pollution generated by heavy-duty vehicles, including buses and trucks. The proposed rules, the first in more than 20 years, seek to cut releases of nitrogen oxides from new heavy-duty vehicles up to 90 percent by 2031 when compared to current standards.

Additional rules aimed at significantly reducing greenhouse gas standards for heavy-duty vehicles, starting as soon as model year 2030, will follow. The push is also coming from states. In July 2020, governors from 15 states and the mayor of Washington, D.C., signed a memorandum of understanding to work together to ensure 100 percent of medium- and heavy-duty vehicle sales are zero-emissions vehicles by 2050. The coalition has an interim target of 30 percent electric vehicle sales by 2030.

That push is being supported by a group of 37 businesses including DHL, Ikea, Pepsi, and Unilever. The businesses sent a letter of support, noting air pollution can disproportionately affect low-income communities. “Improving air quality is not only the right thing to do for public health and for these communities, but it also makes economic sense,” the letter said. “Fewer instances of respiratory illness, missed days of work and hospitalizations will increase personal disposable income and help reduce the financial pressure on state-funded healthcare programs.”

The Total Cost of Ownership
There is no question regulatory agencies are turning up the heat, but is battery electric technology practical and affordable for the refuse industry? While many factors listed have a significant impact on the future of EVs and EV adoption, vehicle prices are always a key consideration. With federal and state incentives often not available, the upfront cost of EVs remains quite expensive.

Instead of looking strictly at the upfront cost of an EV versus an internal combustion engine vehicle, it is more important to look at the total cost of ownership (TCO) and the differences offered by EVs.

The costliest part of any EV is its battery. Cost for EV batteries have historically been exorbitant. The good news: battery production is growing and technology continues to improve. Improvements in material sciences as well as alterations to the battery’s chemical composition, coupled with price erosion due to production cost optimization and mass-manufacturing are factors that will dramatically allow increased production and availability, thus lowering the cost of batteries.

Fuel Costs
While gas prices have fluctuated wildly over the years, electricity costs have not been as volatile due to industry regulation. New renewable energy and continued decline in the capital cost of renewable energy, combined with low natural gas prices and increased use of natural gas to generate electricity are the primary reasons the future cost of electricity is projected to remain flat in the immediate future. With more efficient generators of electricity, increased use, and conversion to natural gas and renewables, the long-term view is that electrical prices will decrease.

Maintenance and Noise Reduction
Maintenance is another consideration. Electric trucks have far fewer moving parts than vehicles. EVs do not require regular oil, oil filter, transmission fluid, transmission filters, gas filters, radiator fluid, air filter, or spark plugs for scheduled maintenance to maintain the vehicle’s reliability. There is no requirement for state emission checks on EVs as emissions are non-existent. Less scheduled maintenance and fewer visits to the garage lowers a vehicle’s total cost of ownership and equates to more time and productivity from employees.

When the City of Hyattsville, MD introduced its first battery-electric refuse truck, officials touted both the environmental benefits and anticipated “significant savings in fuel purchases and vehicle maintenance.” City officials said they expect to increase its electric fleet, saying that it will “not only provide a public health benefit, but ultimately result in reduced maintenance and operating costs.”

In addition to cleaner air and lower fuel and maintenance costs, those served by electric refuse trucks will benefit from reduced noise. When the New York City Sanitation Department began testing an electric refuse truck, they installed an artificial noise maker to alert inattentive pedestrians of the vehicle’s approach. Encouraged by the performance of their pilot truck, the NYC Sanitation Department announced last summer they were buying seven additional vehicles.

Making the Switch
As the refuse collection industry turns to electrification, it will benefit from the lessons learned from the adoption of electric yard tractors and drayage trucks. Among those lessons are understanding how to conduct the advanced planning for infrastructure and the need to work with utilities to understand electricity costs.

With those yard tractors and drayage trucks having proven themselves capable, their users are becoming more comfortable with buying the vehicles in larger quantities. Anheuser-Busch, for example, recently announced a purchase of 20 heavy-duty Class 8 trucks after testing 25 such vehicles at California distribution centers as part of a state project.

Some users will make the move to electrification just because they feel it is the right thing to do. J&M Sanitation, a family-owned business serving Kuna, ID, announced it had deployed two all-electric Class 8 refuse trucks—the first such battery-electric, zero-emission vehicles in Idaho. The trucks are replacing two current diesel vehicles, resulting in cleaner air and a lower carbon footprint. J&M is the first company in Idaho to own and operate electric refuse trucks. “Our company made this investment to not only serve the community we love, but also preserve the community,” said Operation Manager Chad Gordon of J&M Sanitation. “We are a small, family-owned business. We care enough about our environment that we wanted to make the switch to zero-emission, electric vehicles. It is time for our industry to make changes to help preserve the natural beauty of our world. We can make a difference and we wanted to be a catalyst for change.” | WA

Michael Stafford is Director of Business Development for BYD Motors. Michael is a longtime veteran of the fleet industry and a brand champion. He is responsible for developing new commercial fleet business, creating enthusiasm around traditional vehicle brands such as Audi, Tesla and most recently Lordstown Motors. Today, Michael is the newest member of the BYD Motors Business Development team. In an effort to continue the transformation of transportation to a sustainable greener future, Michael joined BYD to create enthusiasm and proliferate the adaptation of BYD’s EV products in the U.S. market. He can be reached at (213) 491-3619 or e-mail [email protected].