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Are electric rubbish trucks the future of Auckland and New Zealand?

Unless you’ve been living under a literal rock, have just returned from a long, strange trip in the Messier 81 galaxy and/or have somehow freed yourself after being press-ganged into the service of the Dark Fleet, you’re undoubtedly aware electric vehicles are hot topics – including in Aotearoa. But electric rubbish compactors? They’re now on the road in Auckland. So, what comes next?

Top image: Civic Contractors' electric rubbish compactor.

Civic Contractors has welcomed its first fully electric rubbish compacting truck to Auckland. The truck arrived earlier this month, and will be working the streets of central and south Auckland. Civic Contractors hopes it will be the first of many such vehicles making rubbish collection greener. 

The truck’s purchase was co-funded by a governmental Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) grant. Civic Contractors received $250,000 in 2017, and the first of two trucks (an electric street cleaning truck will follow in the coming months) was built by New Zealand company Manco.

The 10-tonne Manco Tom Cat vehicle has a 120-kilowatt battery pack and a range of up to 180 kilometres before it needs to be charged again at Civic’s Otahuhu depot. It will save an estimated 14,000 kilogrammes of carbon dioxide equivalent gas emissions (the standard measure for measuring a carbon footprint) per year.

Civic Contractors' electric rubbish compactor.

Civic Contractors director Bjorn Revfeim says the purchase of the vehicle was a natural move for the company: “Our aim is to ultimately transition our full fleet to hybrid or electric vehicles; trialling this first truck out on the road is a great first step. We’re constantly looking for new ways to minimise our environmental impact.

“So far, feedback from our drivers about the truck has been great. It’s easy and safe to operate as well as being quieter on the streets. Our hope is that this trial will also drive awareness of using electric vehicles in the maintenance space, generating interest from the public.”

Civic Contractors specialises in street and city maintenance throughout the country, from street sweeping and cleaning to graffiti removal and rubbish collection. Among other services, its Auckland office takes care of rubbish collection in public places for the Auckland Council, emptying bins and collecting loose litter in parks, streets and communal areas.

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A number of other cities also use electric rubbish trucks, such as Los Angeles. Here in Aotearoa, Christchurch became the first city in the Southern Hemisphere to have a fully electric residential rubbish collection truck, when Waste Management rolled out their vehicle in late 2017.

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As Michael Reilly writes in MIT Technology Review, there are a number of advantages for electric rubbish compactors – not the least of which includes improving poor fuel economy and ultimately saving thousands of dollars. Quartz says something similar, adding the average rubbish truck burns through about US$42,000 (about NZ$58,000) of fuel per year, and emits about 20 times the carbon emissions of the average US home. In a writeup of the potential of electric rubbish trucks is this tantalising tidbit from Ian Wright, a former vice president of vehicle development at Tesla and founder of Wrightspeed: “Within five years you’ll only have electric garbage trucks. Nobody will buy a diesel engine garbage truck.”

That was 2016.

Civic Contractors’ Revfeim stresses the importance of sustainable services. “Street and city maintenance is an essential part of town management, and the pressure to find cleaner, greener ways of working continues to grow,” he says. “Our team keeps a close eye on innovation in this space throughout the world, and our dream is to become a world leader in green city maintenance.” 

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