Collection and Handling correspondent for Waste Management World

Malcolm Bates on RCVs, Emissions and Popular Culture

Refuse Collection Vehicles – Going Down ‘Electric Avenue’

I’m sure Eddy Grant never had the waste industry in mind when he performed his hit in 1982, but finding a snappy headline linking refuse collection, emissions and pop culture is much harder than you think.

I’m pretty sure singer Eddy Grant never had the waste and recycling industry in mind when he performed his greatest hit way back in 1982, but finding a snappy headline linking refuse collection, vehicle emissions and popular culture is much harder than you might think.

While Eddie was singing about “taking it higher” (possibly linked to

the after-effects of his rather odd looking cigarette), our mission today is tak- ing smoke emissions lower. Especially in inner city areas like the real ‘Electric Avenue’ which is in Brixton, London, UK. Trouble is, it’s taking far longer than the 36 years since Eddy’s admittedly significant hit to achieve.

How do I know this? Several European cities were running electric taxis, de- livery vans and refuse collection vehicles over 100 years ago. They performed well – compared to a horse, that is. Horses are, after all, highly unpredictable on the ‘emissions’ front as photographs of any early 1900s street will confirm. But the electric revolution soon stalled. And has largely remained ‘flat’ as a dodgy battery ever since.

The reasons? Low production numbers. Over-enthusiastic public relations which never matched reality (a long standing fault of Public Relations practiioners, if you ask me) and the killer punch – bus loads of self-righteous ‘consultants’, all keen to scoop up a slice of any well-meaning, but seemingly always doomed Government grant to help offset the significantly higher manufacturing cost of any design containing its own on-board power station.

Today? At last, things might be changing. PVI, Dennis, Mercedes, Fuso, DAF and Iveco are all in the running and Volvo and Scania each have several new concepts.

But while our politicians are busy making sympathetic noises to the demands from single issue pressure groups, many in our industry are still try- ing to figure out how to pay for the extra cost of advanced battery production to power the vehicles we need in order to help keep our environment clean and tidy. Falsely loading a ‘green tax’ on to diesel vehicles is not the answer.

Local politicians declaring a ‘zero-emissions’ zone when there are few suitable electric vehicles in full production shows just how far detached many of them are from the real world. So what’s the solution? It’s obvious, isn’t it?

There has to be a major role here for the hire and leasing sector. Like, buy the vehicles, rent the batteries? There is zero residual value of course, but breaking the operating costs down to a weekly basis can help make the numbers seem less intimidating – as the team at Phoenix Danmark can confirm after a couple of years of service and repair costs of otherwise comparable Dennis ‘Elite’ diesel and PVI electric refuse collection vehicles operating in Copenhagen.

So as this is a time for ‘New Year Resolutions’, what should our industry re- solve to do? Let’s cut the unrealistic public relations. The true operating range of electric vehicles should be verified independently. Let’s explore the advan- tages of very early and late evening waste collection by quieter electric vehicles.

Why bother? Because at last, on a two-shift-per-24 hour basis, the figures for all-electric RCVs are finally starting to add up. And by the end of this year you should finally have a choice of suitable electric vehicles on offer.