Houston-based Waste Management began reporting its sustainability and environmental initiatives in 1992, around the same time the refuse giant piloted its first natural gas garbage truck. Since then, Waste Management has worked diligently to offset the emissions generated from its fleet and landfill operations.
Waste Management, which runs the third largest private fleet in the country, according to the 2020 FleetOwner 500: Top Private Fleets list, is the leading provider of comprehensive waste management environmental services in North America. Its operations span 20 million customers and more than 43,000 employees in the U.S. and Canada.
Waste Management set a goal that by 2038, it will reduce the emissions of its fleet of more than 32,000 vehicles, fuel and facilities by 45%. That effort started in 2007 when the refuse hauler set its first goal to reduce carbon dioxide fleet emissions by 15%, which the company achieved in 2011 primarily by transitioning its collections fleet from diesel to natural gas.
Currently, 90% of Waste Management’s fleet runs on renewable fuel. The company is also transitioning its trucks that run on compressed natural gas to renewable natural gas (RNG) generated from its landfills.
Susan Robinson, Waste Management’s director of sustainability, said the company’s goal is to use its landfill-generated RNG to fuel more than 90% of its refuse vehicles by 2038.
“That also dovetails with reducing landfill emissions by putting in new programs to use gas from our landfills to create renewable natural gas for our vehicles,” Robinson explained. “There is a really nice story to be told there as it really links our emissions reductions goals and helps us make a positive impact on our fleet.”
In addition, Waste Management is looking ahead to the latest technology and experimenting with alternatives. Right now, for its fleet size and duty cycle, natural gas is the commercialized technology that works best, Robinson explained. However, Waste Management has been researching and testing some other near-zero emission battery-electric and fuel cell technologies over the last several years.
Waste Management is in the process of testing a Peterbilt Class 8 battery-electric collection vehicle in Southern California. The hauler also has some electric delivery trucks running in the Northwest U.S.
“We have quite a bit of work to do on testing electric vehicles for our routed collection fleet,” Robinson explained. “But we are working on that, and we expect to work with every one of the different manufacturers to test and see what electric vehicles might work for us and our duty cycle.”
Waste Management’s fleet currently comprises 60% natural gas trucks, with 40% of those running on RNG. The company has also partnered with a dairy farm and is transforming manure into RNG via anaerobic digestion, which uses microorganisms to break down biodegradable material in the absence of oxygen. The process is used to manage waste or to produce fuels.
“We are being very creative in looking at opportunities to take advantage of low-carbon natural gas to dissuade the use of fossil fuel,” Robinson said. “Right now, from an environmental perspective, our trucks are near-zero emission trucks because of that natural gas. Producing renewable natural gas is a really wonderful solution for the particular service that we provide and the fleet we operate.”
About a year and a half ago, Waste Management created a sustainability team to ramp up its efforts. The company also has incorporated its people and planet goals into the blueprint of its operations.
“We are focused on reducing our emissions from our operations through technology, ongoing improvements to our operating practices, and other efficiencies,” Robinson explained. “Our planet and people goals for sustainability focus on reducing emissions by four times those which we generate. We’re also focusing on helping to ensure the communities in which we live in and work are safe, resilient and sustainable.”
Waste Management’s objective to put people first has been underscored through its COVID-19 response, which promised a continued 40-hour workweek for employees.