Skip to main content
Move the World.
electric garbage trucks

Lead Image Courtesy of Mack Trucks

Powered by a whispered, urgent hum, stalking down the alley, extending an arm towards its stinky prey, the trash can, electric garbage trucks are already plying the streets of a few cities, as manufacturers and municipalities seek to transition their sanitation folks to all electric power.

Residents blissfully snooze through it all.

"I twisted the starter switch," wrote the Wall Street Journal's Dan Neil of his own test drive. "An indistinct hum came from somewhere, as indicators and switchgear lighted. Ready to go. Foot on the brake, I pushed the yellow air-brake button on the dash — PWWISHH. Selecting D for Drive, I squeezed the go pedal. The 24,500-pound machine surged lightly, confidently, issuing only a soft, voltage-y whine. Attack of the 50-foot golf cart."

Neil was behind the wheel of Mack's LR Electric, a greener take on the truck manufacturer's current, diesel-bellowing best-selling model. The LR Electric is part of a generation of electric garbage trucks; manufactures like BYD, Daimler, Peterbilt, and Lion Electric have their own entrants in the green beast race. 

Cities are warming up to the idea, Neil reports; Los Angeles has plans to deploy 1,100 electric garbage trucks, while New York City is aiming for an entirely electric fleet by 2040. 

Silent Sanitation

Those electric trucks will be replacing some gas-guzzling monsters. Their diesel engines average 3 miles per gallon, Quartz reports, belching roughly 20 times the carbon emissions of the average American home. They live a rough life, as well, beating themselves up badly as their slow, regular routes — dotted with tons of brake-pad wearing stops — put them right in the sweet spot of what diesel engines don't do efficiently.

Which is why, while protecting the Earth may be the high-level goal of electric garbage trucks, protecting the bottom line may be why they ultimately catch on. 

"While EV trash trucks will be more expensive than conventional trucks, they have the potential to save big on per-mile costs, including energy and maintenance," Neil wrote.

 Electric engines, on the other hand, have no problem with the stop-and-go lifestyle, and the electric motor powered brakes of electric garbage trucks will require far less maintenance, the largest upkeep expense they have, per Neil. 

Los Angeles has plans to deploy 1,100 electric garbage trucks, while New York City is aiming for an entirely electric fleet by 2040. 

Electric garbage trucks are already on the road. Palo Alto got their hippie hands on one from BYD back in 2017; West Coast waste management firm Recology has already got an electric truck on the road, quietly going about its business in Seattle. As of this past July, Lion Electric's Lion8 is also being sold to customers, CleanTechnica reports.

CleanTechnica lists some impressive (if self-reported) specs from Lion: zero emissions, no hydraulics (some of the other models still use hydraulics, particularly for the always-awesome loader arms), and projected savings of 80% on energy costs and 60% on maintenance costs.

Perhaps most fascinating to me is the Mack braking system. 

As The Drive breaks it down, the LR Electrics will be armed with what are called regenerative brakes. As the truck comes to a stop — which it will do hundreds of times a day, thousands of times a week — the energy generated by stopping is harvested by the brakes. Such energy harvesting systems are already at play in electric passenger and non-electric Formula 1 cars — their energy recovery systems can add over 100 extra horsepower at the driver's glove tips.

Chasing that Trash

"Within five years you'll only have electric garbage trucks," Ian Wright, president of powertrain manufacturer Wrightspeed, told Quartz back in 2016.

He's not going to hit that prediction, but the rollout may begin in earnest soon; The Drive reports that Mack's LR Electric orders should be delivered beginning in 2021.

So just hold on, light sleepers; help may be creeping down the alley soon.

Up Next

Future of Cities
Getting Aerial Ridesharing Off the Ground
Getting Aerial Ridesharing Off the Ground
Future of Cities
Getting Aerial Ridesharing Off the Ground
It’s been the ultimate futuristic dream for decades: flying cars! But now, the future finally has a deadline. At least to start, it will land in the form of a small air taxi operated by Uber, not something you’ll park in your garage.

It’s been the ultimate futuristic dream for decades: flying cars! But now, the future finally has a deadline. At least to start, it will land in the form of a small air taxi operated by Uber, not something you’ll park in your garage.

Future of Cities
The Future of Micromobility in Africa
The Future of Micromobility in Africa
Future of Cities
The Future of Micromobility in Africa
In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, improvements to infrastructure shift focus from cars to micromobility. The city’s transportation plan calls for hundreds of kilometers of bike lanes and pedestrian pathways for increased safety.

In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, improvements to infrastructure shift focus from cars to micromobility. The city’s transportation plan calls for hundreds of kilometers of bike lanes and pedestrian pathways for increased safety.

Biohacking
Fecal Transplant Cures Man Whose Gut Made Him Drunk
Fecal Transplant
Biohacking
Fecal Transplant Cures Man Whose Gut Made Him Drunk
A fecal transplant cured a man of auto-brewery syndrome, a rare condition in which the gut converts carbs into alcohol, making a person feel drunk.

A fecal transplant cured a man of auto-brewery syndrome, a rare condition in which the gut converts carbs into alcohol, making a person feel drunk.

Biology
Scientists Grow Mini Human Hearts From Stem Cells
heart organoids
Biology
Scientists Grow Mini Human Hearts From Stem Cells
Mini human hearts grown from stem cells, also known as "heart organoids," could help doctors address the most common kind of birth defect in humans.

Mini human hearts grown from stem cells, also known as "heart organoids," could help doctors address the most common kind of birth defect in humans.

Mental Health
New Algorithm Gives Trauma Survivors a "PTSD Risk Score"
PTSD Risk Score
Mental Health
New Algorithm Gives Trauma Survivors a "PTSD Risk Score"
A newly developed algorithm calculates a "PTSD Risk Score" for people seeking treatment for traumatic injuries.

A newly developed algorithm calculates a "PTSD Risk Score" for people seeking treatment for traumatic injuries.

CRISPR
CRISPR Virus Detection Tool Can Test You for 169 Viruses at Once
Virus Detection
CRISPR
CRISPR Virus Detection Tool Can Test You for 169 Viruses at Once
A new virus detection tool can simultaneously test more than 1,000 patients for a virus — a capability that could prove invaluable during an outbreak.

A new virus detection tool can simultaneously test more than 1,000 patients for a virus — a capability that could prove invaluable during an outbreak.

Space Exploration
Closer to the Sun: NASA’s Parker Solar Probe
parker solar probe
Space Exploration
Closer to the Sun: NASA’s Parker Solar Probe
NASA is getting closer to the sun than ever before with the Parker Solar Probe, leaving researchers excited and bewildered by the data they saw.

NASA is getting closer to the sun than ever before with the Parker Solar Probe, leaving researchers excited and bewildered by the data they saw.