National Waste & Recycling Association

The National Waste & Recycling Association is the trade association that represents the private sector solid waste and recycling industry. Visit and learn more the Association at wasterecycling.org.

Begin with the Bin is a public education resource developed by the National Waste & Recycling Association.

The National Waste & Recycling Association is located at:
4301 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Suite 300, Washington, DC 20008
T: 800-424-2869, 202-244-4700
F: 202-966-4824
E: info@wasterecycling.org
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To use our contact form and to subscribe to our free publications, click here.
Media: Chris Doherty at 202-364-3751 or cdoherty@wasterecycling.org.

Begin with the Bin

Begin with the Bin is a public education resource developed by the National Waste & Recycling Association. The site offers information and resources related to the waste and recycling industries. Visit and learn more at beginwiththebin.org.

Truck Technologies

More than 100,000 garbage and recycling trucks are operating in the United States. By adopting innovations in garbage and recycling collection truck technologies, America's solid waste and recycling industry offers quality-of-life benefits to the communities and neighborhoods that they serve:

  • using less fuel (helping make America more energy independent),
  • reducing operating costs,
  • being quieter than older trucks, and
  • emitting less particulate matter and nitrogen oxide and helping improve air quality.

Perhaps more importantly, these innovations are helping America's solid waste industry lower the greenhouse gas emissions that are responsible for climate change. The modern garbage truck relies on a host of advanced technologies that allow garbage men and women to collect and transport garbage safely, effectively and with less impact to the environment.

Alternative Fuel Trucks

America's solid waste industry is investing in alternative fuels such as natural gas, biofuel and biodiesel. Garbage trucks have become the most rapidly growing alternative fuel truck sector in the nation. Major cities in many states across the country are using garbage trucks fueled with natural gas (CNG and LNG) and other alternative fuels. Natural gas is the most plentiful alternative fuel that we have in North America. Also the availability of biofuel, which is chemically just like natural gas, but is made from renewable sources (landfills, sewage treatment plants and other organic waste), is growing. Natural gas — whether from traditional sources or from biofuel — is one of the cleanest alternative fuels available today.

Using natural gas to fuel a truck may reduce greenhouse gas generation by as much as 20 to 25 percent, compared to petroleum-based fuels. Natural gas trucks are also 50 to 90 percent quieter than their diesel counterparts, offering other quality of life advantages to the neighborhoods that they serve.

Hybrid Truck Technologies

America's solid waste industry is experimenting with hybrid garbage and recycling trucks to further conserve energy and reduce operating costs. Hybrid garbage trucks have been tested in cities such as New York, Chicago, Denver, Fort Worth and Houston.

Every time a hybrid garbage truck brakes, energy is captured and stored in lithium ion batteries or by pressurizing hydraulic fluid in one tank and releasing it to another tank. Depending on the technology employed, this stored energy can provide different benefits. For example, with some trucks, it allows the diesel engine to automatically switch off and avoid unnecessary idling. In others, the stored power is used to help propel the truck when the driver re-engages. In some models, the stored energy is used to power the truck's trash compactor.

The stop-and-go nature of a garbage truck route makes such trucks some of the best suited to benefit from hybrid technologies. Manufacturers report that hybrid garbage collection trucks could reduce fuel consumption by as much as 20 to 35 percent and cut carbon dioxide emissions by a corresponding amount. While savings wouldn't be as great on long-haul routes where there is less braking, even in those instances, manufacturers suggest hybrid technologies could allow as much as 10 percent savings.

Improvements in Diesel Fuels and Engines

While the solid waste and recycling industry is using thousands of new trucks that run on alternative fuels, most of the garbage and recycling trucks operating in the United States are still diesel powered. But truck manufacturers are making improvements there as well.

Ultra-low sulfur diesel (ULSD) fuel was adopted by the Environmental Protection Agency as a new standard for the sulfur content in on-road diesel fuel. The allowable sulfur content for ULSD (15 ppm) is much lower than the previous U.S. on-road standard for low sulfur diesel (500 ppm), which not only reduces emissions of sulfur compounds (a cause of acid rain), but also allows advanced air pollution control systems to be fitted that would otherwise be ruined by these compounds. These systems greatly reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides and particulate matter. EPA estimates that the implementation of the new fuel standards for diesel will reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by 2.6 million tons each year and particulate matter by 110,000 tons a year.

Some local governments are mandating additional changes to achieve even greater emission reductions. For example, diesel garbage trucks in Seattle and San Francisco are using a blend of ULSD and biodiesel, usually derived from vegetable oil. With such a blend, emissions of fine particulates and toxic air pollutants can be reduced by as much as 90 percent compared to traditional diesel fuels.

Manufacturers of garbage truck engines also continue to improve diesel engine technology. The adoption of some of these advancements has been mandated by EPA regulations. New diesel engines now produce less than 10 percent of the emissions of 2001 models. These emission reductions were achieved using various advanced technologies by different companies, including selective catalytic reduction, advanced exhaust gas recirculation, modified turbocharger rates, optimized combustion, and the careful calibration of electronic engine controls. 

Other Advances

In addition to making their garbage and recycling trucks more efficient and environmentally friendly, solid waste companies are employing global positioning systems technologies and software applications to optimize the efficiency of their routes/schedules. Waste companies use these systems to determine where customers are located, see the surrounding streets and roads, and help determine how long it will take the driver to reach the location or which stop should be first or last. 

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