Waste Management [announced on Friday that] it is pushing forward on a nationwide plan to convert all of its 18,342 trucks from loud and smoky diesel engines to quieter and cleaner compressed natural gas-powered machines. The latest destination for the company’s CNG trucks will be the Houston area, starting at a facility in Conroe where 80 trucks will be able to refuel with gas overnight.
The Houston-based refuse collection giant is the latest in a line of major corporations, including UPS and AT&T, to expand their use of natural gas in fleet vehicles – convinced it is the cheapest and most environmentally friendly option to power their daily road operations.
“The economics and payback of natural gas are so strong that it dwarfs any other technology,” said Eric Woods, vice president of fleet and logistics for Waste Management.
The company saves $3 for each gallon-equivalent of CNG it uses instead of diesel, and recent changes in prices of heavy-duty trucks made the vehicles more viable, Woods said.
At least one resident in The Woodlands has had to chase after a garbage truck because she didn’t realize it was on her block until it already moved on, Waste Mangement driver Servando Rosales said.
“She said, ‘I didn’t even hear you,’” Rosales said of the resident, who had grown used to the noisy reminder of a rumbling diesel engine before moving her garbage outside.
The trucks are decidedly less noisy than their diesel-powered counterparts, quiet enough for Rosales to talk without yelling in the cab of the vehicle, which has monitors and alarms to warn of gas leaks.
Our dog Harry used to go ballistic whenever he heard the garbage truck, or any other vehicle with a rumbly diesel engine. The sound just drove him crazy, and he’d plaster himself up against the door or a window and bark his fool head off at the offending noisemaker. I suspect he wouldn’t be placated by these apparently quieter vehicles, but perhaps the duration of his frenzy would have been reduced.
The noise reduction resulting from this switch is unquestionable. The effect on climate change is less clear to me. Googling around I found this Clean Air Task Force post about whether public transit buses would do better to switch to CNG or newer diesel models. Both are better than the older diesel buses, but CNG buses aren’t clearly better than newer diesel buses. Since I assume Waste Management is replacing older vehicles that this is an overall win for the environment. I just don’t know how to quantify it, and I don’t know if this was the best possible option from that perspective that was available to them. But it is better than doing nothing, so that’s something.