This week, we’re talking trash. Not what’s in it, but what moves it. The frequent stop-and-go operation of garbage trucks make them ideal for electrification. So why aren’t they being adopted more quickly?

Waste not

Is there a better vehicle candidate for electrification than the unlovable garbage truck?

They start and stop for a living. Regenerative braking captures energy to put it back into the battery. Garbage is still going to be smelly. But take away the diesel fumes spewing from the often-idling waste hauler and breathing is easier. 

Partly for that reason, a lot of garbage trucks are powered by cleaner-burning natural gas. The higher acquisition cost of a battery-powered refuse truck is not always an easy sell for a fleet manager focused on total cost of ownership.. A case can be made that it should be. It will be a topic of conversation at the annual Waste Expo next week in Las Vegas.

Refuse trucks are a $7 billion market segment within the global commercial fleet industry. Annual growth is more than 4%. 

The LR Electric is available for order from Mack Trucks, which assembles them alongside other heavy-duty trucks in Macungie, Pennsylvania. Its first evaluation models are in use with the New York City Department of Sanitation and with Republic Services in Hickory, North Carolina. Mack doesn’t talk publicly about its orders.

We caught up with Scott Barraclough, Mack’s senior product manager for e-mobility, for the manufacturer’s view on zero-emissions trash pickup.

FREIGHTWAVES: How is customer interest running for the LR Electric refuse hauler?  

BARRACLOUGH: “Customer interest in the Mack LR Electric is very strong, especially among environmentally conscious refuse customers looking for all the benefits our industry-leading Mack LR provides, plus Mack’s zero-emission, fully integrated electric drivetrain.”

FREIGHTWAVES: Why do you think adoption has been slow to date? 

BARRACLOUGH: “Electric refuse trucks are just starting to come online and wider spread adoption will ultimately be facilitated by the development of a charging infrastructure, particularly where the vehicle does not return home every night.”

FREIGHTWAVES: How long will incentives juice electric vehicle sales like the LR? 

BARRACLOUGH: “Incentives will continue to play an important role in the adoption of fully electric commercial vehicles, helping offset additional costs related to the vehicle, charging equipment and any necessary infrastructure upgrades.”

Mack LR Electric refuse hauler (Photo: Mack Trucks)

Trash day

The Mack LR qualifies for a $120,000 voucher from the California HVIP program. Other incentives are available in New York, Massachusetts and Utah as well as in British Columbia and Quebec, Canada. 

Besides Mack, BYD, Lion Electric (NYSE: LEV), Daimler, PACCAR Inc.’s (NASDAQ: PCAR) Peterbilt and DAF brands and Volvo in Europe all are testing prototypes or in early production of battery-powered garbage trucks.

The biggest deal for electric refuse is one that didn’t happen. Startup Nikola (NASDAQ: NKLA)  and No. 2 waste hauler Republic Services Group (NYSE: RSG) canceled a contract for 2,500 electric waste trucks last year after the cost of converting the Nikola Tre daycab was deemed too costly.

Republic has one Mack LR in service and is partnering with commercial truck battery developer Romeo Power (NASDAQ: RMO) to collaborate on future electric garbage trucks. 

Another startup, XL Fleet (NYSE: XL), is jointly developing a series of battery electric and plug-in hybrid electric commercial trucks with Curbtender for use in waste management applications.

XL Fleet and Curbtender are developing an electric-powered garbage truck. (Photo: XL Fleet)

In the city

Cities are making the move toward electric garbage trucks. In early 2020, Los Angeles committed to a 100% electric sanitation fleet by 2035 and pledged to buy only electric trucks starting next year.

New York City began testing the first Mack LR garbage truck in 2020 and plans to put 2,000 electric vehicles into service by 2025. From Miami-Dade County, Florida, to Chicago, garbage collection fleets are beginning to go electric. Seattle received the first electric rear-loading trash Class 8 trash truck in 2019 from BYD. 

Peterbilt this week announced delivery of a production Model 220EV medium-duty electric truck to the Municipality of Anchorage Solid Waste Services in Alaska.

Another option

Electricity isn’t the only answer.

No. 1 hauler Waste Management, with 20 million customers in the U.S. and Canada, uses landfill-to-gas-to-fuel plants to create renewable natural gas (RNG). The company’s fleet is made up of 60% natural gas trucks, with 40% of those running on RNG. WM operates 107 natural gas fueling stations, nine of which are open to the public.

WM says that using natural gas lowers fuel costs and reduces planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions by more than 80% compared to diesel power. It plans to use landfill-generated RNG to fuel more than 90% of its refuse vehicles by 2038. It is testing a Class 8 Peterbilt electric truck in waste collection in Southern California.

Waste Management is big on natural gas-powered refuse trucks. (Photo: Waste Management)

Still rising

Truck Talk devoted most of the June 11 newsletter to developments in hydrogen. Now a new study by Information Trends predicts more than 800,000 light-, medium- and heavy-duty hydrogen fuel cell commercial trucks will be sold by 2035. 

The Global Market for Hydrogen Fuel Cell Commercial Trucks study splashes a little lighter fluid on the unceasing debate between backers of battery-electric and fuel cell-powered trucks. Battery-electric trucks will remain the go-to technology through the first half of the decade. But the script will flip to hydrogen power for heavy-duty trucks in the second half.

That’s consistent with the plans of Cellcentric, the recently formed fuel cell trucking joint venture of Daimler Truck and Volvo Group. Startup Nikola might get some Class 8 fuel cell trucks out sooner, but the ramp up comes later.

Meanwhile, executives of 25 multinational companies wrote to Gov. Gavin Newsom urging him to direct the California Energy Commission (CEC) to dedicate $500 million of the state’s $1 billion Clean Transportation Program reauthorization.

Sufficient — or not

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) looked at the costs and lead times to upgrade charging electric depots for short-haul heavy-duty electric trucks. Simply put, we’re going to be OK. The chargers for light-duty vehicles, typically less than 100 kilowatts per vehicle, are suitable for use in heavy-duty truck charging.

So while more powerful chargers for heavy-duty electric trucks in the middle-mile and long-haul space are needed, delivery, utility and refuse trucks can make use of existing infrastructure.

But more is needed. The CEC finds that that state — the nexus for electric vehicles in the near term — will need 157,000 chargers to support an anticipated 180,000 medium- and heavy-duty trucks and buses by 2030.

Delivering the mail

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds. So goes the motto of the U.S. Postal Service. Oshkosh Truck Corp. (NYSE: OSK) is ready to deliver new mail trucks from a dedicated plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

But Workhorse Group (NASDAQ: WKHS) is challenging the multibillion-dollar contract the Postal Service awarded to Oshkosh in February in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. The Washington Post reported June 16 that Workhorse is asking for an injunction to halt the first phase of the contract — $482 million for finished designs — until the dispute is decided.

Workhorse proposed 100% battery-electric Next Generation Delivery Vehicles. Oshkosh proposes some electric vehicles and said it can go all electric if the Postal Service can pay for it. Meanwhile, it has nothing to say about Workhorse’s complaint.

Neither snow nor rain …

That’s it for this week. Thanks for reading, If you like Truck Talk, you can subscribe here for email delivery on Fridays. Story tips welcome. Write to me at