With trash truck, Cary takes a big step in its transition to an all-electric fleet

Mack Trucks

The Town of Cary’s gradual transition from gas-powered vehicles to electric ones has focused so far on relatively small machines, such as police cars, ATVs and riding mowers.

Now it has ordered something bigger: the town’s first all-electric trash truck. Cary expects to receive the side-loading truck a year from now and put it to work emptying recycling bins at the curb.

While electric cars have been around for decades, large electric vehicles like trash and fire trucks are still unusual. Greensboro-based Mack Trucks only began producing the LR Electric refuse truck late last year and says Cary is the first municipality in the state to order one.

The town wants to transition its fleet of vehicles to electric primarily to use less fuel and produce less pollution. The town replaces cars, trucks and other vehicles every year and has made electric its new standard, said assistant town manager Danna Widmar.

“We believe we can make a transition by 2040,” Widmar said. “So this is really an important step.”

But not an easy one. For starters, there aren’t many electric trash trucks on the market. Cary originally tried to buy one from another company, but delays in manufacturing and some deficiencies in the design ended that deal.

Another challenge is cost. The town will pay about $904,000 for the Mack and its recharging equipment, more than half a million more than a standard diesel, Widmar said. Cary offset much of that cost with a $406,000 grant from the federal Diesel Emissions Reduction Act program, leaving the town to pay about $498,000, still $168,000 more than the diesel.

But the town expects to save $23,000 a year in fuel and maintenance costs compared to the diesel, which would make up the difference over the expected seven- or eight-year lifespan of the truck.

In addition to less air pollution, Cary residents may also notice less noise.

“It will be much quieter,” Widmar said. “And that has obvious benefits for our staff as well.”

Cary still has plenty of diesel trucks

Cary has a fleet of 28 diesel-powered trucks to collect solid waste, recycling and yard waste; like the new electric, 19 of those trucks have a side arm that allows the driver to hoist bins from inside the cab. When the electric truck arrives, one of the diesels will be retired.

The trucks generally operate 7 a.m. to about 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and as needed Friday to complete unfinished routes.

The Mack truck’s electric batteries not only move the truck but also power the arm for lifting bins. On average, an LR Electric is capable of going about 100 miles before requiring charging, said company spokeswoman Kim Pupillo.

“We’re confident the LR Electric will deliver the range necessary to meet the needs of many heavy-duty U.S. refuse applications,” Pulillo said in an email. “And, with its fast-charge capability, recharging becomes feasible during midday breaks should charging be necessary to complete a shift.”

Cary thinks the electric truck will go about 120,000 miles during its expected lifespan, Widmar said. The truck comes with a five-year, 250,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty and, most importantly, an eight-year warranty on the battery, she said.

Mack is building the truck’s cab, chassis and powertrain at its plant in Macungie, Pennsylvania, near Allentown. New Way Trucks of Scranton, Iowa, is building the body.

Next on Cary’s list of electric vehicles are pickup trucks. The town plans to begin testing some soon. And in a few years, it hopes makers of electric fire trucks will have some readily available.

In the meantime, the town has installed lithium-ion batteries on nine of its fire trucks to power them as they’re idling.

“We’ve transition to idle reduction technology, which has been a big improvement,” Widmar said. “A lot of the emissions on trucks is during the time it just sits there during a call.”