Close-up photo depicting the Waste Management logo painted on the side of a green garbage bin.

Natural Gas Watchdog Questions Waste Management’s Marketing Claims on Renewable Gas

by Agueda Pacheco

Seattle residents and environmental activist groups are putting Waste Management’s (WM) new garbage truck slogans, which claim their trucks to be fully powered by renewable gas, to the test.

“You know the signs, ‘Breath Clean, Seattle: Powered By Renewable Natural Gas,’” said Pat Harris, a downtown resident speaking at the Seattle City Council’s Transportation and Public Utilities Committee last month. “The suggestion that Seattle residents are breathing clean around Waste Management on methane gas-powered vehicles isn’t accurate.” 

As part of the City’s contract with one of the largest trash collection agencies in the country, the City requires WM’s fleet to run on 100% biogas. The trucks pick up trash in about 60% of the city, including both the South and North ends. When the contract was established in 2019, WM claimed their fleet of 101 garbage trucks would run entirely on renewable natural gas, otherwise known as biogas.

During the council committee meeting, Councilmember Lisa Herbold took the opportunity to ask Seattle Public Utilities Deputy Director of Solid Waste Line of Business Jeff Fowler whether there is a compliance issue with WM’s contracts with the City. 

“We’re aware of this information that came out recently, and we’re looking into it more deeply to make sure we’ve got everything correct,” Fowler said. “We do have requirements in our contract about using natural gas, and we do have compliance reports requirements from contractors to be sent to us, but I don’t want to misspeak; I don’t know if anyone else on my team has more updated information.”

Through a public records request, Gas Leaks, a national organization that campaigns and warns against the use of natural gas, found that Waste Management’s assertion that their trucks run on biogas may fall under false advertisement. The organization further argues that biogas, which is gas captured from methane-dense locations such as landfills, sewage treatment plants, and dairy farms, is not as clean or renewable as WM makes it out to be.

In a letter to the City Council, Mayor Bruce Harrel, the Office of Sustainability and Environment, and Attorney General Bob Ferguson, Gas Leaks outlines how Waste Management doesn’t have a way to capture methane at their landfills. Gas Leaks explains that the nearest source where it could get biogas would be a Puget Sound Energy and Williams pipe that only receives 0.3% of all its gas from the Cedar Hills Regional Landfill.

“It’s hard to believe how [the fleet is wholly powered through biogas] when we know how limited the sources are, so we started doing the digging,” said Caleb Heeringa, the campaign director at Gas Leaks. The letter urges City officials and the State attorney general to hold WM accountable by having them prove they’re using renewable gas or remove the advertisements on their trucks. 

A spokesperson for Attorney General Bob Ferguson did not answer by press time whether their office would seek to investigate or prosecute WM for false advertising. 

In the state of Washington, anyone found guilty of false advertising is subject to no more than a $5,000 fine or no more than 90 days in jail. 

In an email to Real Change reporter Guy Oron, Waste Management wrote that despite overwhelmingly powering their fleet with fracked gas, a crediting system allows the pipeline company from which they get their gas to import an equivalent amount of renewable gas from out of state.

Heeringa said a more accurate slogan for WM’s trucks would be “Powered by an accounting trick and fracked gas.” 

“What it says now,” he said, “plainly leads you to believe there’s cleaner fuel inside those trucks.”

This article is funded in part by an Environmental Justice Fund (EJ Fund) grant through the City of Seattle’s Office of Sustainability & Environment (OSE).

Agueda Pacheco Flores is a journalist focusing on Latinx culture and Mexican American identity. Originally from Querétaro, Mexico, Pacheco Flores is inspired by her own bicultural upbringing as an undocumented immigrant and proud Washingtonian.

📸 Featured Image: Photo via The Image Party/

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