Friday 14th December 2018 saw the end of the 24th UN Climate Change Conference, or COP24, in Katowice, Poland. This year, the message was more urgent than ever - if we are to limit warming to <1.5°C, and continue to prosper in our environment, more ambition and more action to protect our environment and reduce greenhouse gas emissions is required by all.
The urban environment is an opportunity area for multiple actors; politicians, businesses and citizens, to make large-scale changes that dramatically reduce our impact on the environment. As a hotbed for new innovations, financial investment and governmental institutions, the city has the power to scale new technologies and influence our daily practices and infrastructure to ensure our cities (and the wider environment) continue to be a healthy and thriving place to live.
However, the impact of some sectors is often overlooked, despite their infiltration into everyday lives. Waste management is an excellent example of this. It is not one that many would seek to discuss over the dinner table, however, its impact on our city and wider environment is considerable! There are huge opportunities and technologies available that can help to ensure this impact is positive.
Refuse Collection Vehicles (RCVs) operate around our towns and cities daily. Running with diesel engines, these vehicles produce a significant amount of toxic air emissions and carbon dioxide as they idle and slowly run through residential streets around the city. They also significantly contribute to noise pollution within the local environment. All of this has a negative impact on the environment, and our human health and well-being.
The eRCV project sought to address many of these problems, re-powering an end-of-life, diesel refuse collection vehicle to be fully electric. The vehicle is now operating within Greenwich residential areas, reducing local noise and air pollution and carbon dioxide emissions. This is ensuring that the local residents inhabit an environment that enhances their health and wellbeing.
The eRCV II project builds on the success of eRCV I and will continue to address some of these problems. The project will re-power four end-of-life, diesel RCVs to be fully electric. These will then run in two different environments - dense urban environment (Westminster), and rural/urban, hilly environment (Sheffield). By successfully trialling the eRCVs in these ‘extreme’ locations, the project will show the capability of the vehicles to perform the job of their diesel counterparts. It will also explore and quantify the financial, environmental, and social benefits, enabling the technology to be scaled and deployed throughout other HGV (Heavy Goods Vehicle) and waste management operators.
The consortium is made up of multiple organisations from different sectors, highlighting the opportunities that are available when utilising experts from a variety of fields. It is part-funded by Innovate UK, with partners including MagTec (battery retrofit experts), Veolia (UK’s largest waste management operator), Sheffield and Westminster City Councils, Microlise (Telematics experts) and ourselves (DG Cities) as urban innovation experts.
If these trials prove successful, electrifying the vehicles could have a substantial impact on the local and national environment, reducing air pollution, carbon dioxide, noise pollution and reducing resource use by continuing to use an otherwise end-of-life vehicle.
It may not be glamorous, but this project highlights the potential for ALL actors within society to make a substantial impact on our environment. By every sector employing new technology in this way, we can ensure our cities, and the wider environment we inhabit continues to thrive. It is not easy, and adjusting the way in which we work and live to accommodate these changes comes with previously unknown barriers and drawbacks.
However, as reiterated within COP24, the alternative is far worse. The progress made within eRCV II, and the wider waste management sector, should be used as inspiration to other actors; encouraging them to think creatively, utilise new technology and explore new business models in order to utilise resources more efficiently, reduce our environmental impact and ensure our urban environment continues to be a healthy and pleasant place to inhabit.