Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold and former City Councilmember Mike O’Brien joined increased calls to investigate environmental claims of the waste removal company WM around the use of renewable natural gas (RNG) in new garbage vehicles.
In 2019, the city of Seattle signed a 10-year contract with the company for waste trucking services that included a mandate for cleaner vehicles that burn RNG, a fuel derived from the gas byproducts of microbial decomposition in landfills, instead of diesel.
“Climate change efforts must be driven by science, and misleading information has absolutely no place in the public sphere,” Herbold wrote in an April 6 press release.
In March, Real Change reported that the WM trucks, many of which are labeled with the slogans “Breathe Clean” and “powered by renewable natural gas,” use language that might be misleading. The company uses an EPA-regulated system to credit contributions of biogas into conventional methane gas pipelines in order to count the Seattle trucks as being powered by RNG.
Environmental groups such as GasLeaks, 350 Seattle, Sierra Club and the Breach Collective argue that WM’s RNG branding greenwashes fracking, the main source of methane gas. Because of frequent leakages of the gas — which produces 80 times more greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide — the organizations say that methane is just as bad for the climate as coal.
Advocates also said that RNG is not a viable solution to replace conventional fracked gas because potential capacity could never meet the current level of demand. For example, the regional private utility company Puget Sound Energy launched an RNG program in 2020. RNG accounts for slightly more than 1 percent of the company’s total gas mix — hardly a transformative change after three years.
“There’s nothing ‘renewable’ about the fuel in Waste Management’s trucks — it mostly comes from fracking, just like the methane gas in our homes and regional pipeline system,” wrote Caleb Heeringa, the campaign director of GasLeaks. “Allowing these ads on the side of garbage trucks is textbook greenwashing.”
In a text message, Heeringa said that advocates are awaiting a response from the city about potential language changes to the WM slogans plastered on the sides of the trucks. Advocates hope that endorsements from current and former elected officials such as Herbold and O’Brien will accelerate efforts to discredit “false solutions” such as RNG.
Read more of the April 12-18, 2023 issue.