[Source: Babergh and Mid Suffolk Councils]

Babergh and Mid Suffolk District Councils, along with their waste collection provider Serco, are leading the way when it comes to transitioning from standard diesel to Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO), after becoming the first rural councils in the UK to start the switch to the new fuel back in September 2021.

In 2019 both councils declared a climate emergency, which kickstarted their journey towards finding innovative solutions to tackle climate change at a local level and slash their carbon emissions to net zero by 2030.

With a fleet of over 100 vehicles representing the biggest proportion of the councils’ total CO2 emissions – just over a quarter (approximately 880 tonnes per year), it was an obvious place to start, and the search for a new sustainable fuel got underway.

Babergh and Mid Suffolk bin lorries cover around 20,000 kilometres of rural Suffolk every week collecting over 100,000 bins from country dwellings to urban town apartments. With around five bins collected per kilometre on average, their rounds are far less compact compared to more urban areas.

This rural make-up of the districts, combined with HVO’s ability to reduce CO2 by up to 90%* while also cutting other pollutants, meant it quickly became an obvious choice for lowering the authorities’ emissions. Aside from needing to procure new tanks and a fuel supply, the switch could also start near-immediately with many of the fleet vehicles already having HVO-compatible engines, with others soon to follow once upgraded to newer compatible models.

Alternative solutions, such as moving to EV vehicles, were and continue to be explored, but with the market still progressing, especially for EV waste collection vehicles, it wasn’t yet a viable option when factoring in cost alongside battery lifecycles and range (mileage per charge), for such a rural area.

Several months on, and the results so far have shown the transition to be a huge success on multiple fronts.

Since the switch, the councils’ refuse, and recycling vehicles have travelled over half a million kilometres and used more than 358,000 litres of HVO fuel. This has delivered a CO2 reduction of just over 467,000kg across the fleet which equals an amazing 89% CO2 reduction per kilometre travelled, with additional reductions in other pollutants, and carbon savings from other vehicles in the fleet.

Other benefits are also making a significant difference; crews, residents, and passers-by can enjoy cleaner air, and the lorries are set for longer engine lives and less maintenance costs owing to the reduction in pollutants.

This reduction in maintenance costs remains an excellent trade-off for the 10-15% increased cost of using HVO fuel, compared to cheaper regular diesel.

Colin Wagstaffe, Serco contract manager, said:

“During 2020, in partnership with Babergh and Mid Suffolk District Councils, in an effort to reduce our carbon emissions, we started work towards switching our refuse and recycling fleet over to HVO fuel and are delighted to see the positive impact this simple switch has had in such a short space of time.”

The fuel supply crisis which hit the UK at the end of September 2021, just weeks after the start of the councils’ transition, fully realised not only the environmental benefits, but the service resilience that HVO could provide.

Previously, the councils’ fleet would have filled up at the pump with other motorists. But, with the two new HVO tanks installed at the councils’ depots, the bin lorries and fleet could continue their vital work without the disruption experienced by other councils still using conventional fuel.

Cllr Elisabeth Malvisi, cabinet member for environment at Babergh District Council, 

“The benefits of HVO in helping us to achieve the ambitions set out in our carbon reduction management plan have always been clear.

“But never could we have predicted just how resilient HVO would make us when the UK fuel crisis hit in 2021, enabling us to continue collecting bins without disruption to our services.”

Cllr Jessica Fleming, cabinet member for environment at Mid Suffolk District Council, said:

“The benefits of switching to HVO not only include having slashed our fleet’s carbon emissions by almost 90%, alongside reducing other pollutants, but also cleaner air for residents and our crews, and less maintenance costs and longer lives for our vehicle engines.

“This is a change that will continue to make Mid Suffolk, as well as Babergh, greener and healthier places for years to come, and we hope we’ve inspired others to follow our lead.”