Can ditching diesel make recycling less cost-prohibitive?

PWS Natural Gas Truck
© Progressive Waste Solutions

One of the most consistent, unavoidable barriers to recycling is the cost. Layers of infrastructure – from collection to sorting to recycling – need to be navigated, and constant shipping costs emerge every step of the way. Shipping recyclables can be particularly prohibitive, and it all-too-often requires the use of diesel-fuel trucks that, apart from being terrible for the environment, historically cost more to fuel than gasoline. Until battery-powered freighters and trucks become accessible alternatives to gas guzzlers, are there any alternative fuels that might mitigate some of the environmental and economic costs of shipping?

In the past few years, one fuel in particular has been catching the eyes of many businesses and firms, both large and small: natural gas. As far as alternative fuels go, burning natural gas generates fewer carbon emissions, costs anywhere between 25 and 50 percent less than diesel, and limits our dependence on foreign petroleum. It could very well be a way for us to circumvent the typical transportation barriers of recycling in a greener way than the current diesel dominated market.

This is in part why TerraCycle made the decision to partner with Progressive Waste Solutions, one of North America’s largest waste management companies, and one that is starting to shift away from diesel and towards compressed natural gas. Since May 2013, Progressive Waste has added 300 compressed natural gas-fuel trucks, for a total of about 400, to its collection fleet. Our partnership means that we will be able to integrate TerraCycle recycling programs into existing curbside collections, but in a way that circumvents many of the conventional environmental and economic costs of diesel-fuel transportation.

PWS Natural Gas Truck - 2© Progressive Waste Solutions

Progressive Waste services commercial, industrial, municipal and residential markets across 13 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and six Canadian provinces – so its impact is, to say the least, far-reaching. Now, those existing customers will have the opportunity to recycle a greater catalog of waste materials not offered by conventional waste management systems.

Compressed natural gas is a much cheaper and cleaner-burning fuel, but it’s obviously not an end-all, ultimate eco-friendly fuel alternative that we should be satisfied with; this is simply an incremental step towards more sustainable transportation. As it stands, 28% of the greenhouse gases generated in the U.S. are generated in the transportation sector. We are seeing some exciting advancements that limit our need for liquid or gas fuel trucks, but nothing that is readily accessible on the large scale needed for garbage trucks and tractor-trailers. Natural gas can lessen those emissions contributions until more sustainable alternatives are developed.

The recycling programs we offer at TerraCycle are only as effective as the transportation infrastructures they utilize. Right now, we’re limited to mail-in waste collection programs that are held back by the costs and weight restrictions of postal services. With Progressive Waste’s help, we can make those collection programs more mainstream by bringing them directly to people’s curbs. We can even avoid some of the prohibitive costs and inevitable carbon emissions linked to conventional transportation. Hopefully in the next five or ten years even more practical, environmentally sound fuel alternatives will be developed. When they are, we will be opening up the conversation once again.

Can ditching diesel make recycling less cost-prohibitive?
Waste management companies, big and small, are coming together to make recycling more affordable, sustainable and scalable.