Cleaning up garbage truck emissions in New York City

| November 20, 2013

The early morning rumble of garbage trucks is a signature sound of New York City. However, residents increasingly have a bone to pick with the garbage trucks — and it’s not about the noise pollution, it’s about the air pollution.

The city owns 2,000 garbage trucks, and those trucks are being subjected to much stricter environmental standards under an initiative from Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “Under a law signed in September, by 2017 at least 90 percent of these [city-owned] vehicles must meet the tougher emission control standards for diesel trucks that the federal Environmental Protection Agency set in 2007,” reports Winnie Hu of the New York Times.

garbage truck emissions

New York City’s 2,000 garbage trucks are being subject to stricter environmental standards. From dandeluca.

That’s a great start, but it’s merely a dent in New York City’s garbage truck dilemma. That’s because the city only owns a fraction of the garbage trucks on the road. There are another 8,300 privately owned trucks that aren’t inherently susceptible to the new regulations.

With more than 10,000 garbage trucks on the streets of New York City, emissions add up in a big way. The New York City Business Integrity Commission recently released an eye-opening report on the potential effects of garbage truck emissions. Hu summarizes the report’s findings: “If no action is taken, the private trucks will emit a total of 1,368 tons of particulate matter and 23,198 tons of nitrous oxides between 2013 and 2020.”

If that sounds bad, it’s because it is. The chemicals in diesel exhaust have been linked to respiratory and cardiovascular problems, smog, and global warming.

garbage truck emissions

Harmful garbage truck emissions can contribute to smog. From Pedro Plassen Lopes.

Fortunately, there’s a new proposal on the table that would require these private trucks to adhere to the same emissions as the city trucks. With a tentative deadline of 2020, private haulers would have an extra three years to comply in comparison to the city-owned trucks.

The proposal still needs to be approved by New York City’s City Council, and the Council is currently in the review process.

Complete replacement of the privately owned trucks would be very expensive, to the tune of $484 million “on top of the $571.4 million [private owners] would be paying to replace trucks through normal turnover” during that time. While it should be possible to retrofit some trucks to meet the new standards instead of completely replacing them, industry groups are still concerned.

“Companies that collect waste and recyclables in New York City typically operate on very narrow margins and are limited as to their ability to raise prices,” said David Biderman, general counsel for the National Solid Waste Management Association, which represents more than 750 waste and recycling companies nationally.

While the cost of meeting stricter standards is high, there is an obvious environmental cost involved in not making the changes. Here’s hoping that New York City’s City Council weigh both costs and make a smart — and green — decision that will benefit as many people as possible.

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About the Author ()

Ellen Hunter Gans has been writing for RecycleReminders since the blog’s inception. She is passionate about words, new media and, of course, recycling.

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