The Miami fleet

Features - Equipment Focus | Collection Trucks

Miami-Dade’s investment in 23 new waste trucks is just the next step in the county’s push for more sustainable waste collection.

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September 8, 2021

Photos courtesy of the DSWM

In May, the Miami-Dade County Department of Solid Waste Management (DSWM) announced it was the recipient of a $1,852,500 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that will help subsidize the purchase of 23 automated side-loader waste collection trucks and two truck tractors for hauling waste.

The grant was awarded under the EPA’s Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA) program, which works to promote a “clean and healthy environment and clean air.”

To fulfill this requirement, DSWM has committed to purchase Peterbilt 520 side-loader chassis that will reduce diesel emissions significantly over older vehicles in DSWM’s fleet. According to the county, roughly half of the trucks will have New Way Sidewinder bodies and the other half will have Labrie Automizer bodies.

Peterbilt introduced the Cummins Westport ISL-G Near Zero NOx emissions natural gas engine in its 520 model chassis in 2016. The engine, which is designed for use in the refuse industry and other vocational applications, operates on 100 percent natural gas in compressed (CNG), liquefied (LNG), or renewable natural gas (RNG) form.

According to the company, NOx emissions in the ISL-G Near Zero engine are 90 percent lower than the current EPA limit, but the engine still offers comparable performance to its original ISL-G engine that generates 320 horsepower and 1,000 lb-ft of torque.

At the time of the announcement in May, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said that the grant is part of the county’s overall goal of making the DSWM more sustainable in its operations.

“I’m committed to making Miami-Dade County a cleaner, greener community, and that includes looking for opportunities to become more energy efficient across county buildings and operations,” she said. “This grant from the EPA is an important step forward to build a more sustainable Department of Solid Waste Management, reducing emissions and protecting our environment as we serve our neighborhoods.”

DSWM Director Michael Fernandez told Waste Today that the grant, which will help subsidize roughly 25 percent of the trucks’ costs, will allow DSWM to be better stewards for the communities it serves.

“We’re trying to reduce emissions everywhere in our organization and preserve the environment,” he says. “The older vehicles, with the legacy engines, are the ones being replaced to eliminate the thick plumes of black smoke coming out of the tailpipe or smokestack that you are used to seeing. These new trucks now, they run hotter and cleaner, burning through all that particulate matter with no smoke. You could look at one of these new trucks, and you don’t see anything coming out of the tailpipe or the smokestack. All those older vehicles contribute to serious health problems for people and add to the pollution in our communities. … We want to put these new cleaner burning vehicles in residential neighborhoods so we can have a positive impact on our communities.”

In addition to helping drastically reduce emissions, Fernandez says the Peterbilt trucks have better fuel mileage than DSWM’s older fleet vehicles, which will further help the county pursue its sustainability goals.

The trucks also have the capacity to haul a larger volume of waste than Miami-Dade’s older vehicles. This equates to fewer trips needed to unload materials, less time out of the road and less fuel consumed.

Fernandez says the new vehicles are scheduled to be delivered during the summer of 2022. After a brief training period with the new trucks for both drivers and mechanics, the vehicles will be placed into service.

From an employee satisfaction standpoint, Fernandez says keeping up with newer vehicles goes a long way for DSWM’s workers.

“The drivers are ecstatic. Keep in mind, [the truck] is their office. They spend 10 hours a day in there, so it’s nice to be able to give them something new,” he says. “The trucks also come with newer technology that makes their jobs easier. The trucks can count how many carts you dump and have other features that are designed with the driver in mind, so when we have new trucks, it’s just a different ballgame.”

An evolving fleet

Fernandez says that keeping up with the latest fleet vehicles is something that is important for Miami-Dade not just for environmental reasons, but also because it makes financial sense.

“Before [in both the private and public sector], it was all about what’s the most cost-effective way, not necessarily the most sustainable way, to make your profit margins. But now, I think it’s not just about profit margins, it’s also about sustainability,” he says. “That is part of what goes into purchasing vehicles today where before those considerations were never really part of the mix because it was all about the bottom line. I think there is more environmental awareness out there in the communities [we work in], and I think everybody is making an adjustment to be more sustainable and [embrace] the responsibility that we have as organizations to think about the community and work towards a sustainable future.”

To this end, he acknowledges that the county has looked into investing in electric waste vehicles to cut its emissions even further, but the cost of the vehicles has been prohibitive thus far. Still, Fernandez says electric vehicles are clearly the truck of the future and that the county has been working to secure additional state grants that would allow DSWM to start integrating them into its fleet.

“I think that the best-case scenario for the industry is going fully electric where there’s no tailpipe, no emissions—there’s nothing. I think that’s going to be the future of the solid waste industry,” he says.

Fernandez says that electric vehicles not only offer the upfront benefits of reduced emissions, they also come with reduced maintenance costs and don’t require techs to change the oil or deal with discarded fluids, which also leads to greener operations.

Fernandez can envision how electric vehicles may someday soon allow the county to adopt a circular approach to its waste where the refuse that is collected helps produce the power that the vehicles run on courtesy of Miami-Dade County’s Resources Recovery Facility, which is a waste-to-energy facility in Doral, Florida, that is operated by Covanta Energy.

“I really am a believer in electric trucks and, ultimately, the dream will be to use our waste-to-energy facility here in Miami-Dade County to our benefit. I think the best story would be to have the garbage that we’re picking up in the neighborhoods going to get processed at a waste-to-energy facility where the power could be used to power these electric vehicles,” he says.

While Fernandez envisions electric trucks someday helping Miami-Dade achieve a circular approach to managing its waste, he thinks the widespread adoption of these vehicles across the country could help promote the reemergence of waste-to-energy facilities more broadly.

“I think with all these waste truck manufacturers getting into electric vehicle production, that just moves us one step closer to the ultimate dream of using the garbage that we’re collecting in our neighborhoods as the feedstock or the fuel source and getting away from fossil fuels like diesel and even natural gas and going emissions free,” he says. “I think that’s as sustainable as it gets because there’s always going to be garbage, you’ve got to pick it up, but now you can have a sustainable fuel source from it. You’re doing something beneficial with the waste rather than throwing it into a landfill that’s producing methane gas. For this reason, I think you’re going to see more waste-to-energy facilities pop up in our communities and people are going to figure it out sooner or later.”

The author is the editor of Waste Today and can be reached at aredling@gie.net.