Sanitation's Suddenly Silent Symphony - OZY | A Modern Media Company

Sanitation's Suddenly Silent Symphony

Sanitation's Suddenly Silent Symphony

By Eugene S. Robinson

Doug Craig
SourceNick Fouriezos


Because it’s always nice when necessary evils become unnecessary.

By Eugene S. Robinson

We’d imagine there must be some sort of sadistic delight in driving a garbage truck and doing a morning pickup.

Like playing the violin badly or the drums well, creating loud sounds that are at odds with the surrounding environs is a surefire way to state unequivocally: “I am now the master of your sleep cycle! Hear me and groan!”

Which is precisely why it’s sort of surprising that it’s taken this long down the quality-of-life road to figure out there’s a better way. Straight out of Foster City, California, comes Motiv Power Systems’ design for the apex animal of “wish I’d thought of that”: the silent garbage truck.

…the first all-electric garbage truck in North America, a region jam-packed with cities in desperate need of them.

While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency capped the noise garbage trucks can make at 76 decibels as of 1982, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration notes that long-term exposure to sound levels at over 80 dB can cause hearing loss that’s likely to be permanent. Considering that trucks outfitted with back-up beepers produce tones that can range from 97 to 112 decibels when backing up — not to mention the cascades of aluminum and steel cans, and sanitation workers shouting over all of this din — and you have a wake-up call saying something’s got to change.

Motiv’s cross-peninsula cousin, Tesla, has been designing electric vehicles, which as a breed have taken some knocks for being oh so quiet, without any internal combustion engines combusting. But one company’s bug can be another company’s winning feature, and Motiv landed an Energy Department-funded contract with the city of Chicago to develop the first all-electric garbage truck in North America, a region jam-packed with cities in desperate need of them.

“While Motiv did not have an ERV [Electric Refuse Vehicle] at that time, our ePCS [electric Powertrain Control System] was installed on other truck types, and we leapt at the chance to use the ePCS on a significantly larger truck,” said Motiv Founder and CEO Jim Castelaz. So pulling in some diesel truck builders, the ERV was designed and developed on the heels of Motiv’s previous offering, an electric school bus. With an expected savings of 2,688 gallons of diesel fuel each year and about $11K in annual maintenance costs, the ERV covers about 60 miles on a single charge and can haul about 9 tons of trash every day. Quietly.

Which, while significant for light sleepers, has a benefit beyond costs and noise: each of the 20 trucks scheduled to roll out in Chicago for about $13.4 million will also offset more than 55 barrels of petroleum and 23 tons of carbon dioxide each year. Even with a 600-truck fleet to cover the city, those 20 ERVs will make a dent.

Especially at 5 a.m. If you’re hung over. Ssssshhhhh …


Sign up for the weekly newsletter!

Related Stories