Norway Cleaning Up Refuse Collection : IN DEPTH: Putting Nature First - Electric Waste Collection Vehicles

refuse collection vehicle garbage truck waste electric vehicle PVI Sarpsborg

Norway has some of the best scenery – and cleanest air – on the planet. In the city of Sarpsborg the local municipality recently elected to put two new zero-emission refuse collection vehicles into service. Malcolm Bates paid a visit ...

It was exactly one year ago that Waste Management World took a look at the latest zero emissions refuse collection vehicles (RCVs) that were working in the city of Frederiksberg in Denmark, following a successful two-year trial.

The findings of that trial suggested that thanks to improved lithium-ion battery technology, initial fears that a conventional-sized, three-axle, battery-powered waste collection vehicle operating at 26 tonnes gross weight might not have enough power – or range – to complete a normal shift, were unfounded. Indeed, based on ‘real life’ operating experience, the French-built PVI units seem to have the capability to operate over two shifts without the need for a charge.

There remains the issue of initial purchase price, of course. As was previously the case with the lithium-ion battery-powered ‘Green Machine’ compact vacuum sweeper, the cost of a zero-emissions battery-powered drivetrain was almost double that of a conventional diesel-powered vehicle of the same capability.

In other words, the battery pack cost as much as the rest of the machine! And so it is with the PVI. In other words, it would be possible to buy TWO Euro-6 diesel Dennis Eagle ‘Elite’ 26 tonners (the British-built chassis/ cab design on which the PVI is based) for the price of one PVI.

So does that cold, hard statistic make the PVI little more than a distant dream for many waste collection services around the world that are currently trying to balance air quality concerns in downtown areas against an annual budget that is hardly enough to purchase and operate conventional diesel vehicles?

No, according to Brian Olesen of Phoenix Denmark – the distributor of PVI vehicles for Northern Europe and Scandinavia – it does not. And he’s going to prove it to me. And hopefully to you, too. “Of course the initial cost of any new vehicle is an issue,” Brain admits, “But real-life operating experience with the original PVI vehicles in the city of Paris, and over the last three years or so in Frederiksberg (Copenhagen), show that operating costs with the zero-emissions PVI are significantly less than those of comparable diesel-fuelled vehicles,” he suggests. “Especially in terms of tyre wear and brake overhaul costs.”

Brian Olesen is the ideal person to talk through the marketing ploy often used by battery-powered vehicle manufacturers to justify higher initial purchase cost. This suggests that customers are also buying several years-worth of ‘fuel’ in advance. Is that really a credible argument?

“Based on the operating experience at Frederiksberg, where a fleet of other smaller electric vehicles are also operated, I would say, yes, it is. We calculate that the latest lithiumion battery packs should last for at least eight years without any significant reduction in performance, and quite possibly ten. This means one zero-emissions RCV should be capable of completing two five-year term waste collection contracts,” he replies.

Brian adds that based on recent operational experience, the vehicle would continue to perform normally – even if battery pack performance dipped to 75 percent of its power when new.


So how is he going to prove that zero emissions refuse collection vehicles are a viable proposition for operation in n large, heavily-populated ‘global destination cities’ with major traffic congestion and air quality issues? Cities like New York, London, Rio de Janeiro, Sydney, Berlin and Rome? By heading off to Paris to see how the older PVI machines are working there?

No. Apparently I’m off to Sarpsborg in Norway. Brian Olesen meets me at Gardermoen airport and we’re soon heading around the busy Oslo ring road. My first mission is to find out where Sarpsborg is exactly... Ah, here we are – it’s 97 kilometres south of Oslo and has a population of just 55,000.

We’re in beautiful rural countryside now and while I don’t have any air quality instruments with me in my camera bag, I’ve just stuck my head out of the car window and had a good sniff.

For someone like me who was walking in the middle of London a few days previously, the air quality here in Norway seems pretty fantastic. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that if they could put it in a can, they could sell it! So it poses the question, why was the decision taken at ‘The Radhus’ (the city hall) at Sarpsborg to specify zero-emissions refuse collection vehicles in the first place?

To find out, we’re off to meet Ottar Kristiansen. It’s his job to carry out the requirements of the city council and operate the refuse collection vehicle fleet in Sarpsborg. The waste collection and recycling contract is undertaken on behalf of the city council by NG (Norsk Gjenvinning), the leading commercial waste contractor in Norway.

We catch up with Ottar at his office at the main vehicle depot and waste transfer site on the edge of town. He starts by suggesting that I’m missing the point about zero-emissions vehicles – the idea in Sarpsborg is that low and zero-emissions vehicles should be operated to ensure that air quality doesn’t get bad in the first place – not, as many see it, as a desperate measure to reduce it, once things have got to a dangerous level.

It’s a good point and in this respect, Sarpsborg already has excellent ‘prevention credentials’. Prior to putting the two zero-emissions PVI chassis into service at the start of 2018, seven other existing RCVs fuelled by bio-gas were already in service. That’s bio-gas produced at a plant situated locally, completing the recycling ‘circle’, reducing depandancy on fossil fuels and putting Sarpsborg on the low carbon footprint map.

So why do more? As Brian Olesen of Phoenix Denmark explains, part of the answer is that towns and cities throughout Scandinavia and Northern Europe clearly take their responsibilities in ensuring high air quality standards and an improved environment very seriously.

There are real and genuine concerns here about the effects diesel exhaust pollution might have – especially on children’s health. “Already, a number of other Norwegian cities have placed orders for new zero-emissions PVI refuse collection vehicles, or are about to do so,” Brian confirms. Significantly, I’m told, a large percentage of new PVI chassis currently in build are destined for this part of the world.


Operational experience at Sarpsborg suggests the PVIs make around 600 stops a shift. The body hopper units are Joab ‘Twin Packs’ – a split body/ hopper design able to collect two waste factions – with twin (a single and a double) container lifters. In Sarpsborg, a driver and single crew member are employed on each vehicle, but the low entry/easy access cab, (shared with the Dennis Elite), has accommodation for two crew members if required. Domestic household waste is collected together with plastics, garden waste and paper and cardboard on an alternate week basis, with all food and greenwaste going to the local bio-gas plant.

So how have the units performed so far? “The drivers and crews really like the quiet operation and to be able to speak and hear each other while at work,” Ottar Kristiansen confirms. “Also, the battery performance is much better than we were expecting. The battery level is only down to 50 percent capacity at the end of the shift,” he adds.

“And local residents and shoppers have reacted favourably to the reduction in noise. So much so that we are now searching for some new waste bins with a quieter lid operation,” he smiles. It seems the noise made by the plastic bins is now the loudest part of the entire operation!

The two PVI vehicles start the shift in the downtown area and work out into the suburbs. Two shifts are worked each day by different drivers and while Sarpsborg doesn’t have the steep hills of say, San Francisco (this is not a mountainous part of Norway), it’s reassuring to note that the PVI chassis can climb a steep 20-degree slope if required.


Here’s the key point: While a zero-emissions PVI has a greater price than a new diesel 26-tonne RCV, it can work an early morning shift in the downtown area without disturbing residents, before the commuter traffic creates hold-ups, then work out against the flow of traffic to the suburbs. As a result, it could pick up more bins in less time. Then, battery reserves are such that it could go out again for a second shift. Then it could be more cost-efficient than a diesel RCV.

Brain Olesen suggests this ‘break even’ point is currently at seven years, but the gap is closing. And that’s without even factoring in the environmental gains, or taking into account that a zero-emissions PVI could undertake two five-year contracts when a maximum specified age limit of five might apply might apply to a diesel unit. Or any increase in the cost of diesel in the next ten years.

And here’s another point. If a nice little city like Sarpsborg can take the big decision to put zero-emissions refuse collection vehicles into service to improve the lives of its residents, surely the key question is: What’s stopping the larger so-called ‘destination cities’ around the world with far more acute air quality problems from doing likewise?


Brian Olesen at Phoenix Denmark ( Laurent Copin at PVI, France (