Future Proofing waste collection fleet and depots

Collection systems have come under severe strain due to Covid notably through the additional waste demands, a lack of available staff, social distancing limiting crew numbers and inevitable budget impacts of these and any associated contractual arrangements (service providers, MRFs, organic waste collection and treatment etc.).

Some of these challenges will persist, to varying degrees, until a vaccine is distributed across the UK. Overall, we would anticipate these challenges to be, at worst, medium term issues, albeit elevated levels of domestic waste and recycling may not be.

This article considers fleet and depot needs as we progress into the 2020’s. In our view this should answer the following questions:-

  1. What is the fleet demand in terms of vehicle type / capacity?
  2. What fuel options are available? Is specialist refuelling infrastructure required?
  3. What procurement options are available?
  4. Are suitable maintenance contracts / arrangements in place?
  5. Is the depot fit for purpose now and to meet future demands?
  6. What other infrastructure is available either through the Council or privately?

Fleet demands in terms of vehicles types: The changing nature and arisings of waste has already undergone a transformation in the last 6 months as a result of the pandemic, typically with recycling up 13- 15% and residual waste arisings up 11-13%. The changing character of the waste (for example a higher proportion of cardboard) has notably affected twin stream and source separated collections (the latter have been particularly impacted by the social distancing aspects of the Covid response). But there will be additional impacts from an impending recession (which always suppresses arisings) and long-term behaviour change around working, purchasing, EPR, DRS and ‘greener thinking / marketing’. In addition to route optimisation, there are often savings to be made from optimal sized vehicles – for example choosing larger capacity vehicles can result in overall system efficiencies if the routes can sustain it.

Fuel options: Two environmental challenges that require focussed effort in the 2020’s are undoubtedly climate change and local air quality. All the talk right now is about electric RCVs, these are being installed in the City of London and Cambridge and have experience in other cities (see image). They reduce carbon impacts and local air emissions and will proliferate as the 2020’s progress. The infrastructure is important, in terms of adequate charging infrastructure / connections and, as importantly, its location. Dual Fuel and Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) is applied in other contexts as an alternative fuel and an example of the recently installed fleet in Palma - Mallorca is included here.

The need for a potentially larger fleet and alternate refuelling (for either CNG or electric fuelled RCVs) creates unique demands for depots and potentially other waste management infrastructure (WTS, AD plant, EfW facilities and landfill sites - where electricity is generated). The available sites and opportunities should be fully explored before the business case for alternate vehicle fuels is committed.

Procurement options: Vehicle lease and hire companies usually specialise in Euro 6 Diesel powered vehicles. While the borrowing costs remain low there are often capital benefits for Councils to procure vehicles through prudential borrowing, or if outsourced there also is the option of the collection contractor procuring vehicles at the commencement of a new contract. The latter may be specified through the procurement to meet Council requirements and to build in efficiencies into the system - this should be optimised through the procurement process.

Maintenance contracts: can take the form of in-house vehicle maintenance operations, potentially including other third-party services, or outsourced maintenance services either via a third party or a collection service contractor. Lease / hire services can have other arrangements e.g. the equipment/vehicles are maintained at the vehicle dealership. Each have their own benefits and disbenefits, and relationships in these areas have been tested with regard to the staff shortages of the pandemic and the need to maintain the service chain to keep vehicles operating.

Is the depot fit for purpose: This is a common area of concern moving forward, initially driven by national strategy and expansion of services, but now also by competing demands from other services, asset value and potential fleet changes in future around alternate fuels or expanding trade waste / income generating services. The potential of shared depots and infrastructure to gain strategic efficiencies is an area of increasing interest. Covid has also brought about further impacts on depots, welfare facilities and how they are managed. Other waste management infrastructure: The whole range of available waste management infrastructure (public and private) should be considered in reviewing the best approach to managing the fleet (as well as waste) in long term operating decisions.

The interconnectedness of the sector has been highlighted by the pandemic and the need to maintain all key elements of the chain in order to keep the services functioning. This has been a steep learning curve and the sector has shown real innovation and resilience to meet this challenge. Fleet and infrastructure reviews are important elements to support and prepare for future challenges as we progress through the 2020’s.

Frith Resource Management are independent advisers and have worked with over fifty local authorities covering service reviews and business cases, for feedback see here. We support vehicle procurement, collection modelling, infrastructure reviews, waste strategy and fleet costings. FRM can also bring experience of alternate vehicles, fuels and waste operations from international cities and communities as case studies and supporting evidence for different approaches. Contact us to discuss any needs on 01746 552423, or email me paul@frithrm.com