The Fuse

Why Waste Management is Operating the Largest Fleet of Natural Gas Trucks in North America

May 30, 2015

Guest Post by David Steiner | @WasteManagement |

David Steiner is President and CEO of Waste Management.

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In 2007, as part of its corporate sustainability goals, Waste Management committed to increase the fuel efficiency of the Company’s fleet and reduce its fleet emissions by 15 percent by 2020. This goal was reached by 2011.

With the largest fleet of vocational heavy-duty trucks in North America, Waste Management continually tests new technologies and operating practices to reduce our use of fuel. When it comes to natural gas engines and fuel, we have been a leader in transitioning our fleet from diesel fuel to clean natural gas, an effort that goes as far back as 1992!  We currently have more than 4,000 natural gas trucks operating in communities across North America—almost 25 percent of our collection fleet. This is the largest fleet of heavy-duty natural gas trucks in North America.     

Why are you transitioning to natural gas?

Transitioning our fleet from diesel to natural gas yields a range of environmental benefits, including saving over 350 million gallons of fuel and reducing about 3.5 million metric tons of CO2 emissions. Our vehicles powered by compressed natural gas (CNG) have nearly zero particulate emissions, cut greenhouse gas emissions by over 20 percent, and are far quieter than their diesel counterparts. All great benefits, for sure.

And there’s more to our story. We are also acutely aware of our nation’s reliance on foreign oil and we strongly believe that using domestic natural gas for our heavy-duty trucks enhances our energy security.

How do communities benefit when Waste Management replaces its diesel trucks with natural gas trucks?

Investing in natural gas fueling infrastructure is expensive and can be a barrier for local communities in their efforts to transition their own fleets to natural gas. We feel a tremendous sense of responsibility to help local communities get past this hurdle by investing in “anchor” fueling stations that can be used by the public and by city fleets. Waste Management operates 73 natural gas fueling stations and 27 of these are built for use by the public or other third parties. This is one way that Waste Management is helping local communities begin building their own lower emission fleets immediately. Also, natural gas trucks are quieter, easier to maintain and weigh less than new diesel trucks—facts that matter since we operate on local streets and in alleys.

Has your strategy changed with the current low oil prices?

No. In fact, our strategy in 2015 is identical to our strategy in 2014—over 90 percent of our fleet purchases will be natural gas trucks. Why? Fuel is one of our single largest expenses, so predictability, stability and price matter. We all know that oil prices are volatile. Conversely, natural gas prices have historically not seen as much volatility. We’ve benefited from the low cost of natural gas and expect this to continue in the future.

Where do you go from here?

This is where it gets exciting—not necessarily easy—but, at Waste Management, we believe the hard things can be done. A decade ago, Waste Management invested in technology to create natural gas as fuel from the landfill gas we collect. In 2009, we began producing Renewable Natural Gas (RNG) from our Altamont Landfill in the Bay Area of California, fueling 300 of our collection trucks. Best of all, the greenhouse gas emissions from RNG are 90 percent less than diesel fuel. We recently opened our second facility, located at our Milam Landfill in Illinois. RNG can also be created from wastewater treatment facilities and dairies.

What is next? Do you have other plans to reduce the environmental impacts of your fleet?

At Waste Management we dream big, constantly asking the question, “What if?”, while always keeping a keen eye on environmental and economic sustainability and practicality.

When it comes to the environmental impacts of our fleet, our efforts aren’t limited to natural gas and RNG. We’ve engaged in research into hybrid and electric fueling alternatives as we strive to achieve our ultimate goal of operating a Zero Emissions Vehicle.

We’re keeping at it. I’m often asked if there’s a way to do this “faster” or “better”. There is. And that’s where the conversation about support from governments in the form of grants and/or tax incentives comes in. With that kind of support, there’s no doubt in my mind that we’d see a much faster transition than we’re seeing today.

Our investments over the past 20 years have involved some risk, a good deal of success, and some very helpful and, at times, tough learnings—all important elements as we continue to move the ball forward in investing in natural gas as a bridge fuel for our nation’s trucking industry. Along the way, we have been improving air quality, helping the nation’s economy, and helping to secure our nation’s energy independence by reducing our reliance on foreign oil. And, perhaps most important, doing our part to make a lasting impact on our planet—leaving it a cleaner, healthier place.