Dig Baton Rouge

Thinking Green

When I think of waste and garbage trucks, I think of stinky, large vehicles clanking along and blocking me as I try to get to work. I think of large black carbon emissions being released into the air, and usually directly into my air filter.

At least one company, however, is doing its best to change the way I think.

Last month, Waste Management announced that its 40-truck fleet will be able to provide waste management services to the Baton Rouge area in a more environmentally-friendly and quieter way.

The company’s fleet will switch from operating on diesel fuel to compressed natural gas in an effort to reduce carbon emissions. The announcement was made on February 27th by Warren Guedry, Waste Management’s manager of public sector solutions.

Compressed natural gas is one of the cleanest fuels available for large disposal trucks. A natural gas fleet has less carbon dioxide emissions, as well as fewer emissions of nitrogen oxides and particulate material per mile.

“Each Class 8 diesel truck that is replaced with a natural gas one reduces fuel consumption by an average of 8,000 gallons per year,” Guedry said.

The trucks themselves are also a plus, because they are not as noisy. According to Guedry, the noise will be cut in half. That may mean no more intensely rude awakenings after a night of drinking.

The company estimates an average reduction of greenhouse gas emissions of 22 metric tons annually. With 40 trucks being converted there will be a whopping 880 metric ton reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

Waste Management has converted more than 2,600 vehicles to alternative fuels. Their mission is to convert all 20,000 vehicles in their fleet by 2020. This number is great relative to other corporations with large fleets. UPS only has 965 vehicles that run on compressed natural gas, though it does have hybrids and other alternate fuel vehicles. FedEx had only two test vehicles as of March 2013. Their chairman and chief executive, Fredrick W. Smith stated that the company would likely increase that number over the next 10 years as more fueling stations are available.

Again, Waste Management gets a head nod for its head start. It is not only switching to natural gas vehicles at a greater rate than other companies, it is also setting up the fueling stations that many companies, like FedEx, are waiting for. Waste Management will have a compressed natural gas fueling station, “Clean N ‘Green,” at its Livingston Parish headquarters. It is currently set to be private, but the company is considering making it accessible to the public. Waste Management operates 53 refueling stations for compressed natural gas. Of the 53 stations, 20 are open to the public.

Even better: the natural gas for the fleets often comes from the landfills themselves. Yes, our garbage can fuel our garbage trucks. Genius.

The first Waste Management landfill to utilize this technology is the Altamont Landfill in California. Turbines convert landfill gas to electricity and produce enough clean-burning natural gas to power approximately 300 vehicles daily and eliminate nearly 30,000 tons of carbon emissions a year.

The process of turning garbage into gas is quite simple – to explain at least. A vacuum extraction system and a network of wells capture the gas that naturally forms as the waste decomposes. The collected landfill gas is then refined into renewable natural gas. This natural gas powers both the vehicles and plant itself. Not a bad alternative to fossil fuels.

The power to run the plant is also derived from landfill gas. The landfill gas does go through a process in order to reduce contaminants that may exist in the gas. Even so, the fact that the gas is being reused should increase the publics’ conscience on properly disposing of items like batteries and electronics.

Indeed, this is not a call to stop recycling or composting. Landfill space is limited and as we’ve recently seen over the battle in North Baton Rouge, no one wants a landfill in their backyard.

In terms of the race to convert to green policies and utilize alternative fuel technology, Waste Management is beating the competition. Progressive Waste Solutions, owner of SDT Waste & Debris Services, does not mention any implementation of alternative energy technology in the United States. Republic Services is also making use of alternative energy technology, setting up refueling stations, and converting to natural gas fleets, but on a smaller scale and we have yet to see their new practices being implemented locally.

At a time when the Mississippi River is inundated with fertilizers and other run-off contamination and activists beg their political representatives to stay true to their campaign promises of cleaning up the environment, it is refreshing to see that a company is springing to action. The solutions offered by Waste Management are real, practical, and actually happening.

And surprise surprise, it’s coming from our garbage bins.

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