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Facts on Greening Garbage Trucks: New Technologies for Cleaner Air

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Facts on Greening Garbage Trucks: New Technologies for Cleaner Air

Apr, 2011

INFORM’s new report investigates the role that the 179,000 waste collection, waste transfer, and recycling vehicles on US roads play in generating vehicle emissions that threaten public health in cities coast to coast.

Garbage Trucks in the US

The refuse business serves a critical function in American society, collecting garbage from over 75 million homes, 7 million businesses, and 100,000 government enterprises. Public concerns regarding waste normally focus on its growing quantities or on the dangers posed by landfills to the environment. However, one element of the waste management industry that often goes unnoticed, yet has significant impacts on health and the environment in cities coast to coast, is the vast garbage truck fleet that processes this country’s garbage.

INFORM found that 179,000 waste collection, waste transfer, and recycling vehicles are on US roads today -- 91% of them diesel-fueled and most of them old. While these vehicles perform a vital public service, their emissions contain large quantities of gases, fine particulates, and more than three dozen toxic contaminants. In addition, diesel garbage trucks generate noise levels that can be high enough to cause “serious hearing damage.” This air and noise pollution is delivered to virtually every street in America.

Diesel-powered garbage trucks pose significant threats to the environment, to the health of residents in the communities they serve, and to the workers who maintain and operate them. But there is good news.

In its investigation of garbage truck projects in the US, Japan, and the Netherlands, INFORM found that cleaner fuels and quieter garbage truck technologies have significant potential to revolutionize this vital fleet sector. The trucks of the future will be able to clean our streets while also helping to ensure clean and healthy air for the communities they serve. The most exciting news is that the future is now. Natural gas trucks, which are 90 percent cleaner and quieter, are commercially available. The challenge is to make the shift to this new generation of vehicles and fuels as rapidly as possible.

Beyond the immediate environmental, health, and quality of life benefits they provide, natural gas trucks also help reduce our dependence on foreign oil and move us toward the era of the hydrogen fuel cell -- possibly the ultimate sustainable, pollution-free, and renewable fuel and power source.


  • An estimated 136,000 garbage trucks, 12,000 transfer vehicles, and 31,000 dedicated recycling vehicles haul away America’s garbage (179,000 vehicles in total).
  • Two-thirds of the estimated 700 natural gas garbage trucks in operation in the US operate on liquid natural gas, while the rest use compressed natural gas.
  • An average garbage truck travels 25,000 miles annually, gets less than 3 miles per gallon, and uses approximately 8,600 gallons of fuel each year.
  • Over 40% of garbage trucks are over 10 years old, making it the oldest fleet in the US.
  • The average diesel-powered garbage truck costs over $170,000 and is not retired for 12 years.
  • Over 27,000 organizations in the waste industry employ over 280,000people.
  • 82% of collection services are carried out by private companies, and 18% by public entities.
  • Industry revenues for 2000, including waste hauling and recycling, exceeded$43 billion.

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