Mam'k Shows Off New Veggie Oil Garbage Truck

Alternative Fuels Are Among Ideas in County Global Warming Action Plan

by Judy Silberstein

(February 28, 2008) A whiff of French fries was in the air at the Maxwell Avenue public works yard on Wednesday, February 27 as the Town of Mamaroneck unveiled its newly retrofitted garbage truck powered by vegetable oil. Hailed as New York State’s first working refuse collecting truck of its kind, it had already made an appearance at Westchester County’s Global Warming Summit on Monday. The truck is standard, but it has been overhauled by V.O. Tech Fuel Systems of Mahopac, NY to run on both diesel and recycled vegetable oil, obtained free from local restaurants.

Town Supervisor Valerie O'Keeffe praised Mamaroneck's "veggie" truck and all who helped get it running as Councilwoman Phyllis Wittner examines the new paint job. Ben Sands, a Mamaroneck Town employee for the past 37 years, has been "test piloting" the truck since January.

Action Plan Calls for Everyone To Reduce Carbon Footprint

Using alternatives to fossil fuels – like cooking oil - is among the many recommendations to come from the comprehensive action plan presented at Monday’s summit, which was the culmination of months of effort from municipal and environmental volunteers and professionals from across Westchester. Also on Monday, Westchester County Executive Andy Spano called on every resident, business, government and school to make use of the action plan to “reduce its carbon footprint by 20% over the next seven years.”

The plan (available on the Westchester County website) provides practical solutions, many that are in reach of most individuals or organizations. For example, everyone was urged to assess use of energy and water, set reduction goals, and take action such as creating or joining a carpool or installing power strips to ensure electrical equipment is not drawing standby power when not in use.

According to members of the Town Board who were at Maxwell Avenue to celebrate the new veggie truck, Mamaroneck has already taken many steps toward reducing the municipality's carbon footprint, measured last year as 455,168 tons of carbon dioxide from January to August of 2006. In September, the board set a goal of decreasing emissions by 5% by 2012. (See: Carbon Footprint Measured.)

Councilwoman Phyllis Wittner explained, “We decided to pick a goal we can attain – hopefully we can go beyond that.” Councilwoman Nancy Seligson added, “Then we’ll go for goals that are farther out.” The aim is to select initiatives with an eye towards financial practicability, suggested Supervisor Valerie O’Keeffe. “Some environmental schemes cost so much they don’t make sense,” she said.

In addition to its veggie truck, Mamaroneck is reducing pollution by heating the Town Center with a mix that is 20% biofuel. If that proves successful, the percentage of biofuel can be ratcheted up to generate even less pollution. The Town has become a member of ICLEI, the international organization of local government for sustainability whose methods and philosophy went into the development of Westchester’s plan. (Mr. Spano was appointed to the ICLEI board on February 14.)

Larchmont Village has also joined ICLEI, and volunteers from Larchmont’s new Environmental Committee are currently working with Village Hall staff to measure the municipal carbon footprint in a process recommended by ICLEI.

Larchmont Trustee Marlene Kolbert, who served on one of the task forces contributing to Westchester’s action plan, came away from Monday’s lengthy summit somewhat overwhelmed at all she had learned and “at the number of things we should be doing.” She was particularly impressed with what White Plains has been able to do with its extensive staff and facilities – including a garage where trucks are customized for use with alternative fuels or to lighten their energy needs. “We’re just not big enough for that,” said Ms. Kolbert, “but we should work with [White Plains Commissioner of Public Works] Bud Nicoletti – using him as a resource – to find out what might work.”

Ms. Seligson was similarly impressed with Bedford’s environmental group that has developed extensive programs to raise awareness and educate the community on steps that can be taken.

On the other hand, Supervisor O'Keeffe noted that Mamaroneck Town is ahead of other local governments – including White Plains - with developing its veggie truck.

Green Truck - Green Savings for Mamaroneck Town

The beauty of the new truck extends beyond its exterior – which sports a bright green cab and sides decorated with cartoon vegetable characters courtesy of Joe Troy and Mike Frederick of Unique Signs in Mamaroneck. Also visible on the side of the truck are two tanks – one for diesel (required to start the engine on days when the temperature falls below 70 degrees) and the other for vegetable oil.

Less visible is the truck’s cleaner operation. Vegetable oil produces none of the sulfur dioxide associated with diesel and far fewer greenhouse gas emissions. And it smells better. Depending on what's in the tank, the truck could emit fumes of onion rings or lo mein. It will also cost far less to operate, thanks to donations of used cooking oil from The Slap Shot Café at the Hommocks Ice Rick, La Riserva Restaurant, the Larchmont Yacht Club and the Marini Deli in Port Chester. Mamaroneck’s oil “comes from some of the best restaurants,” commented Ms. Seligson.

It’s a “win-win” situation – the restaurants don’t have to pay to dispose of the oil and Mamaroneck doesn’t have to pay for fuel. The Town expects to quickly recoup the cost of converting the truck – around $7000 – with what it saves in fuel – around 40 gallons of diesel per week or around $5400 worth per year, explained Supervisor O’Keeffe.

Mechanic Mike Pinto explains to Councilwoman Seligson, Supervisor O'Keefe and Councilwoman Wittner how donated cooking oil is filtered for use in the new truck.

Though the cooking oil is free, it does have to be collected and then filtered through a system of tanks, pumps, hoses and heaters set up by Mamaroneck’s lead mechanic, Mike Pinto, with help from V.O. Tech Fuel. The truck is expected to consume 60 gallons of vegetable oil per week, so Mr. Pinto along with Mamaroneck Highway Supervisor Lou Martirano have learned to keep their eyes open to new oil opportunities. While displaying the veggie truck at Monday’s summit, held at Manhattanville College, they struck up a relationship with the college chef. That netted them another 100 gallons of oil per week. “No matter where we go, we think about oil,” said Mr. Pinto.

As proud as the Mamaroneck is of its new veggie truck, Ms. Seligson put in a plug for further action. “May we say this is just the beginning,” she asked. “If it’s successful we can look at using it in other trucks.”