Hauling waste does not conjure up many green connotations. But more and more, waste haulers are finding ways to combat that perception by greening their fleets. Veolia Environmental Services North America is one of those companies.

The Chicago-based company, ranked by Waste Age magazine as the third largest solid waste hauler in the U.S. for the second consecutive year, has embarked on a path to make its residential refuse fleet more environmentally responsible. To do this, Veolia, which employs over 9,800 people in North America, is incorporating compressed natural gas (CNG) trucks into its fleet. It has added 33 CNG trucks to its Fort Myers, FL, fleet this year, finishing the conversion of the entire fleet at that location, and is adding 20 more CNG trucks in Northbrook, FL, with the goal to eventually convert that entire fleet over as well.

Veolia Environmental Services, part of global parent Veolia Environment, has more than 6,000 vehicles in its North American fleet, about 1,700 of which are involved in its solid waste fleet. Veolia provides waste collection, third-party hauling/long haul, transfer stations, recycling and hazardous waste services to commercial and residential customers in the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean.

The company believes that CNG fuel is the best alternative fuel available today and is a nice fit for its fleet. On a Btu basis, Veolia says that natural gas produces 29% less carbon dioxide than oil and 44% less than coal.

"A CNG-powered fleet is a win-win for Veolia and for the communities we serve, a domestic alternative energy solution that is better for the environment and more efficient to operate," Jim Long, president & CEO of Veolia ES Solid Waste, said. "Our customers can feel good knowing that their waste service provider is part of the solution."

POWERFUL ADVANTAGES

There are other advantages as well, the company said. Natural gas is pumped into many of Veolia's customers' homes already, creating a familiarity with the product within its customer base. There is also the possibility of powering the trucks in the future with landfill gas. While that would require additional investments and technologies that Veolia is not employing at this time, the potential remains.

By using CNG-fueled trucks, Veolia is generating only 15.1 lbs. of carbon emissions per gallon of fuel burned vs. 22.4 lbs. in a diesel-powered truck, and has been able to extend oil change intervals, another cost savings. At the same time, the fleet feels it is doing its part to reduce dependence on foreign oil: 98% of all the natural gas consumed in the U.S. is from North America. And each of the vehicles meets federal emissions requirements through 2015 without the use of a diesel particulate filter or urea-based aftertreatment. The new trucks are also equipped with automated collection arms that will increase efficiency by at least 8% and further reduce emissions and the hours of operation.

Because the fleet's trucks are traveling within neighborhoods, there is always a quality-of-life concern for residents. Veolia's natural gas trucks run approximately 8-10 decibels quieter than those equipped with a diesel engine, a 15% reduction in noise pollution. This drives both driver comfort and community acceptance of the vehicles. The filling process, too, creates efficiencies for the fleet. The trucks can be filled overnight, reducing time lost at the pumps and reducing administrative expenses, Veolia said.

CNG, though, is just one part of the environmental process Veolia Environmental Services is looking at. The company is also testing other hybrid technologies to see how they fit, either as stand-alone technology or as a complement to the CNG initiative. However fruitful that testing proves, the expansion of its CNG fleet will continue, the company said.