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Hydrogen Trucks Promise a Quieter Garbage Run?

Claims that hydrogen powered trucks can go green are greenwash. To achieve zero emissions it is necessary to include emissions from every stage of the product life cycle which are ignored by businesses that have a vested interest in promoting hydrogen powered vehicles.

In a recent article by Patrick Hatch for The Age “  The makers of Australia’s first locally designed and built hydrogen-powered truck say it will be towing cars and potentially collecting garbage this year in a rollout they believe could spur a shift away from highly polluting diesel vehicles.

Hyzon Motors says the 27-tonne truck it will unveil at its headquarters in Noble Park, in Melbourne’s south-east, on Monday is an Australian first and shows the trucking industry can go green”.

Whilst removal of diesel vehicles is important, claims that hydrogen powered trucks can go green are simply greenwash. To achieve zero emissions it is necessary to include emissions from every stage of the product life cycle. This includes the vehicle itself – to manufacture, service, maintain and dispose of at the end of its life, including supporting infrastructure such as roads as well and the power source itself – which in the case of hydrogen requires a lot of energy to produce, reticulate and so on.

A more sensible approach would be to look at ways of reducing garbage in the first place and how this can be carried out more efficiently. The first is a no brainer but government actions to reduce garbage and waste more generally have been feeble and largely ineffective. This is a complex matter and there are no simple solutions. It requires a systems based approach but so far government have not been up to the challenge even though the need for change has been recognised for decades.

One should ask why we need such large garbage trucks in the first place and why did we get rid of garbo’s. Before the large trucks were introduced, households and businesses used smaller bins that could be carried and emptied by garbos. This encouraged people to waste less. The trucks could operate in a way that enabled bins to be emptied on both sides of the street at the same time which meant fewer truck miles. They were also much quieter – mechanical emptying of large bins by modern garbage trucks is very noisy. Finally the heavy trucks used today are far more damaging to  roads, particularly suburban streets which are not designed for heavy traffic.

Like many decisions that have been made in the past on narrowly based financial cost cutting criteria, broader issues are often overlooked. Many of these have social or environmental impacts and costs that should be part of a triple bottom line evaluation process.  Whilst some of these are difficult to estimate it is obvious that the introduction of large garbage trucks has been a backward step. Removal of diesel trucks is welcomed, but their replacement with hydrogen powered vehicles will do nothing to reduce our rubbish problem – it will simply maintain business as usual and all of the problems this creates will remain unresolved.


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