Waste Management’s green trucks are a regular sight for millions of homeowners and businesses every week as they make their recycling and waste pickup rounds. For the company, green is more than just the color of its fleet, it’s a philosophy that permeates the entire organization when it comes to both the environment and its finances.
Compressed natural gas (CNG) plays a large part in the Houston-based company’s effort to “think green.” Waste Management has a goal to reduce greenhouse emissions by 2020 in an effort to reduce its overall greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent.
The company is already well on its way to meeting this objective. More than 2,000 CNG trucks are now in service, and it purchases more than 1,000 new Class 8 heavy-duty natural gas trucks annually. The company’s fleet is the largest fleet of heavy-duty natural gas trucks in use in North America, according to the company.
“When you look at the impact from not only a greenhouse gas reduction perspective but also an ultimate cost proposition, this works out very well,” Vice President of Supply Chain Eric Woods says. “This is a ‘green-green’ initiative – it’s not only environmentally friendly but financially sustainable, so we can easily maintain the fleet year in and year out.”
Waste Management’s fleet conversion efforts have been noted by its peers in the transportation industry. In 2011, the Clean Vehicle Education Foundation awarded the company its Natural Gas Vehicle Achievement award for its innovative leadership in transforming its fleet. In addition, environmental advocacy organization Energy Vision honored the company recently for its strategic vision and leadership.
Waste Management’s conversion efforts began in earnest in 2007, when the state of California began enforcing more strict regulations governing diesel emissions. These laws, coupled with the rising costs of maintaining diesel trucks and a decline in natural gas prices, spurred the company to adopt a national replacement strategy. Although the up-front costs of CNG trucks are higher than those of diesel, the natural gas trucks are more cost-effective in the long-term.
One of the biggest costs related to modern diesel trucks is the cost to replace diesel particulate filters, which cost thousands of dollars and need to be replaced every few years. “The price and overall maintenance cost of diesel trucks has changed over the years,” Woods says. “It’s not your grandfather’s diesel anymore.”
CNG trucks also reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by more than 50 percent compared to newer-model diesel trucks and even more when compared to older-model diesel trucks. The trucks reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 21 percent compared to diesel.
One of the biggest challenges Waste Management faces in relation to converting its fleet is the high cost of the fueling infrastructure. To offset this, many of the filling stations built by the company to fuel its fleet are also accessible to the public.
More than 50 natural gas fueling stations are now in place across the United States, with 17 of those publicly available. Waste Management vehicles are filled using a slow-fill method, which involves pumping approximately 70 diesel gallon equivalents of CNG overnight. This capacity allows the trucks to run for 10 to 12 hours and complete a typical day’s waste or recycling collection route, according to the company.
A fast-fill capability is installed in the natural gas stations serving the public. The self-service public stations are open 24/7 and accept major credit cards as well as fleet cards. “Those facilities with publicly accessible stations offer fueling solutions to other corporate fleets and consumers as more and more North Americans turn to vehicles fueled by CNG,” Woods adds.