What does ‘one less rubbish truck’ actually mean?

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It sounds a bit crazy, doesn’t it? I mean who cares about ‘one less rubbish truck’? Why is it important to reduce the amount of waste we throw out and why in particular the amount of organic waste we throw out. What difference will it make if there is one less truck on the road? Well, actually quite a bit of difference. Let’s run the numbers and find out.

A fully laden rubbish truck carries anywhere from 4 – 8 tons of waste depending on it’s size and what it’s got in it’s load. The regular truck that picks up our waste to landfill can take a maximum of about 6 tons in a load. The truck in the above photo is picking up recycling.

The average Auckland household disposes of around 10 kilos per week to landfill. This means that the truck picks up from around 600 households before it has to go and unload. At approximately 20 seconds per household (I’ve timed it), this means it takes 3 hours to fill the truck before it has to offload.

The average time taken to offload and return is around half to 1 hour in Auckland, but lets assume the system is running reasonably efficiently, and the truck is averaging 45 mins of travel to a transfer station per load. This means in an average 8-hour day a truck can pick up the waste to landfill of 1200 households. If the rubbish truck is working 5 days a week, this means one truck is needed per 6000 households.

Auckland has approximately 500,000 households, so if we have a rubbish truck per 6000 households, that works out at 83 trucks to service the waste stream of residential Auckland. Call it 85, because some of them must break down or need servicing occasionally.

What the trucks pick up actually varies quite a bit during the year, and all sorts of other problems get in the way. For example, in summer the recycling has a lot more glass in it. (We all like a cold beer right?) This means that the truck can’t compress the rubbish as much because the glass gets crushed and contaminates the other recycling and reduces its value. So in summer the recycling truck picks up the waste of around 250 households before it’s full, as opposed to around 325 – 350 households in winter. We throw out less stuff in winter too. The economics of recycling trucks are quite different from the trucks picking up waste to landfill.

So what’s this all got to do with organic waste? Well it’s a really important part of this equation because organic waste is so heavy. Food is mostly water, so when you transport it anywhere, it’s expensive. Around 40% of what we throw out in Auckland is food, and when you consider green waste as well, up to 60% of the waste stream could be composted.

Auckland households throw out a lot of food waste in total, but the actual volume per household is small. Food waste also has to be picked up each week (think gross smells), therefore the bin used to pick up food waste needs to be smaller than a regular wheelie bin. In the context of an industrial rubbish system, the volume per household doesn’t justify a large wheelie bin. Because the bin is smaller, it can’t be picked up by a side loading truck like we’re used to. Instead the truck driver will have to manually load the bins into the truck (like the old days).

I think the result will be smaller trucks (say 5 tons as opposed to 10) and less trips per day to offload, as the truck won’t be picking up as much waste per household.

Auckland Council are planning to introduce a fleet of rubbish trucks specifically to pick up organic waste and transport it to be composted at facilities on the outskirts of town. I think there’s a much easier way to deal with food waste than trucking it all over town and composting it in multi-million dollar facilities. The answer is right by your backdoor. It’s a cheaper solution too.

I think that to collect auckland’s organic waste and get it to a transfer station will require a fleet of around 100 extra trucks on the road. There will also need to be a fleet of trucks to take the organic waste from the transfer stations to the processing facility/s. Auckland Council have allocated around 20 million dollars a year just to transport the waste, let alone process it.

The real crux of this issue from an environmental perspective is that the solution starts to become a problem.

If we as a community reduce the need for a fleet of rubbish trucks, each truck we take off the road by composting at home will save approximately $480,000 per year. Each 6000 households that do this will reduce the fleet by one truck; hence the name ‘One less rubbish truck’. Not only would we save money and reduce traffic in our congested city, but we’ll get a whole lot of free compost to put on our gardens as well.