Our latest special report, published today, has found that rolling out electric refuse trucks would cut carbon dioxide emissions, reduce air pollution and cut down on costs, once monetised emissions are taken into account.

The report, authored by a team of our waste operations and emissions experts, shows that switching the UK’s fleet of diesel powered refuse collection vehicles (RCVs) for electric trucks would have multiple benefits. These include reducing UK greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 290 kilotonnes of CO2 each year – the equivalent of recycling almost 16 billion plastic bottles – eliminating associated exhaust fumes, and saving local authorities money in the long run.

The report, Ditching Diesel – A Cost-benefit Analysis of Electric Refuse Collection Vehicles, comes at a time when hundreds of local authorities in the UK have declared a climate emergency and are looking for ways to reduce their carbon emissions. Many councils are also looking at how they can tackle harmful, and sometimes illegal, levels of air pollution within their constituencies, and all have limited budgets. Our new research suggests that a rollout of eRCVs could help to address all these challenges.

As well as finding that a switch to electric trucks would reduce GHG emissions from burning diesel, the research also highlights how adopting eRCVs would improve air quality. As eRCVs don’t burn fuel directly, there are no exhaust fumes, leading to reduced emissions of harmful nitrogen oxide (NOx) and particulate matter within communities. The report also found that GHG emissions savings will become greater as grid electricity decarbonises in the future. Finally, our authors point out that electric vehicles are far quieter than diesel equivalents, reducing noise pollution and improving the working environment for collection crews and communities alike.

The cost benefit analysis in the report highlights that, although capital costs associated with eRCVs are greater than diesel vehicles and the relevant infrastructure would need to be established, this initial outlay is often justified by operational savings via lower running costs and social costs the environmental damage caused by diesel vehicles. The research also highlights that funding and investment for ‘cleaner’ operations is becoming available in many areas.

Tanguy Tomes, report author, said:

With RCVs visiting almost every street in Britain on a weekly basis, they are a significant part of our current carbon intense society. Local authorities are looking for ways that they can reduce their contribution to the climate crisis, and eliminating the huge amount of carbon released on a daily basis by diesel RCVs is a logical, and now financially viable, step. We hope that our research will help local authorities to build a solid business case for the urgent change that is required: with a reduction in greenhouse gases, harmful air emissions and noise, and with financial savings becoming more likely, the case for eRCVs is becoming compelling.”

Researchers interviewed operators and manufacturers – from the UK and from further afield – for this report, as well as reviewing existing operations and research. The authors have also illustrated in detail where eRCVs are currently being successfully deployed in eight countries around the world – including in some parts of the UK.