Skip to content
an infographic showcasing how trucks will reach zero-emissions by going green
Thought Leadership // Waste Industry

Going Green, Saving Green: How Zero-Emissions Trucks Will Change the Waste Industry

Zero-emissions vehicles are poised to take over America’s highways. What are the benefits, how feasible are they, and when will we see them on the highway?

Bradford Arick | July 7, 2022


The average price of a gallon of diesel fuel in the U.S. at the end of June 2022 was nearly $6 a gallon. Fuel tanks on a truck can hold as much as 300 gallons at one time, meaning a bill of $1,800 to fill up. These hefty bills are one major reason we’re now seeing a push for zero-emission fleets.


Whether it’s electric or hydrogen, zero-emissions vehicles are poised to take over America’s highways. That includes long haul transportation, last mile delivery vehicles, and even trucks hauling waste and recycling. High fuel prices coupled with calls for environmental action growing louder mean major corporations are already moving in this direction. On top of that, industry trends show that within the next decade, zero emissions trucks will be cheaper or at least cost competitive when compared to diesel. 

How did we get here?


For companies that depend on fleets of vehicles to move goods and services from place to place, including waste, there is immense pressure to cut emissions. Trucks and buses account for more than a third of all greenhouse gas emissions in the country while only making up 4% of vehicles on the road. They’re also the fastest growing source of emissions in the U.S. 


Zero emissions vehicles are a clear avenue to get away from fossil fuels, cut pollution, and achieve ambitious sustainability goals. With the COVID-19 pandemic upending supply chains and the conflict in Ukraine causing huge ripples in the global oil trade, there’s been an acceleration toward finding clean alternatives. As the zero emissions vehicle market continues to grow, it means prices will drop, potentially saving customers money in the long run as well.

RR-Blog-Icons-070722-5How feasible is it?


Besides the environmental impacts, there are a number of reasons why zero emissions fleets make sense, especially in the waste industry.


RR-Blog-Icons-070722-4Save on fuel despite up front cost

Advancements in battery technology have come a long way. Vehicle storage batteries are 80% cheaper and can hold 50% more energy compared to 2010. Despite this, there is still a high upfront cost for a zero emission waste truck. Today, a Mack electric waste truck costs half a million dollars, more than twice the cost of a diesel model. That’s a hard pill to swallow until you look at it side by side with fuel savings. A typical waste truck averages about 3 miles per gallon. With diesel near $6, the time it takes to start seeing a return on investment related to fuel costs continues to drop despite a steep entry point. The U.S. Department of Energy predicts that within the next 15 years, zero-emissions vehicles will cost the same or less than diesel models. 


RR-Blog-Icons-070722-3Less parts, simpler design mean fewer repairs

Electric motors and vehicles that are powered by hydrogen fuel cells have fewer parts than a combustion engine. There are no multi-speed transmissions, spark plugs, oxygen sensors, motor oil, or timing belts. With fewer parts, it makes sense that there would be fewer repairs needed. Numerous studies have shown that zero emissions vehicles cost less to maintain, allowing for longer intervals between needed service. However, because the industry is still very young, repairs may cost more overall. The service industry for zero emissions vehicles is expected to grow along with the production side in the coming years. That means down the road, when vehicles are older and repairs are typically needed more, there will be a savings.


RR-Blog-Icons-070722-2No fumes

You’ve probably smelled the sickening sweet odor of diesel fumes tickling your nose in the morning. Exposure has been known to cause respiratory problems including lung cancer. With zero emissions vehicles, there’s none of that. This leads to healthier, happier employees and lower healthcare costs. Communities living near highways and high-traffic areas often suffer the worst effects from exhaust fumes. Moving away from diesel means an improvement in overall air quality for the communities businesses serve.


RR-Blog-Icons-070722-1Hydrogen: longer range, higher hauling weights

Here’s an example demonstrating the huge potential for hydrogen: The Toyota Mirai passenger vehicle, currently on sale to the everyday driver, set a Guinness World Record for the longest distance driven without refueling. How far did it go? 845 miles between pumps while averaging 152 miles per gallon. 


When it comes to trucking, hydrogen tanks are smaller than traditional diesel fuel ones. Compared to diesel, hydrogen contains almost three times more energy. This means trucks that can go longer distances, weigh less, and have the ability to haul more. Daimler, a big name in the trucking industry, announced last year it was testing a truck that would be able to travel 621 miles on a single tank. GM also announced it was working on similar technology. 


On top of being lighter than diesel, hydrogen refueling is also quicker. A diesel truck could take as much as 30 minutes or more before the tanks are topped off. With hydrogen, it could take as little as 3 minutes in some cases. Time spent refueling means time not spent on the road hauling. 


Hydrogen is already being deployed in some areas of the country, is cheaper than diesel, and emits zero emissions. A standard, traditional waste truck averages 2-4 miles per gallon of diesel. Imagine how much farther a hydrogen truck could go, how much less fuel it would use, and how much more waste and recycling it could haul. The more you look at it, the more the environmental benefits keep stacking up.


CLICK HERE for more details on how RoadRunner could help your business save on your waste bills


RoadRunner’s already improving efficiency


The long term hope for zero-emissions vehicles is that they will eventually become widely used, positively impacting our environment. The technology for commercial vehicles is still very much in its infancy with questions still surrounding reliability and cost.


While we wait for these technologies to truly take hold in the waste industry, RoadRunner is already doing things differently, and better. Our green technologies find the most efficient routing for our contracted haulers. These businesses are using better trucks that get better gas mileage while meeting the unique needs of customers. It’s improving the status of customers while simultaneously pumping less greenhouse gasses into the air.


We’re saving customers money, keeping the air we breathe cleaner, and helping the planet. Stay tuned, because within the next decade, the waste industry is poised to undergo a massive transformation. And RoadRunner will be right in front, helping to lead the charge to a greener future.


CLICK HERE to check out more from our Waste Watchers Blog. Don’t forget to LIKE us on Facebook, and FOLLOW us on Twitter and Instagram!



Let's get the conversation started on how to drive recycling and cost savings for your business.