Focus on regulating refrigerated trucks not banning cream vans

Most refrigerated delivery trucks, used to deliver goods from depots to stores, have two diesel engines

To tackle air pollution, councils such as Westminster and Camden have recently moved to restrict the operation of ice cream vans. Such a move is well-intended, but given the negative response from the media and the public, councils should instead consider regulating a less well-known but much higher source of pollution: refrigerated delivery trucks.


Most refrigerated delivery trucks, used to deliver goods from depots to stores, have two diesel engines. One engine is used to propel the vehicle, and the second engine powering the refrigeration.

While the main propulsion engine is regulated by the Euro emission standards, the secondary engines are instead regulated by the Non-Road Mobile Machinery (NRMM) regulations, which are much weaker and hence significantly more polluting. In fact, secondary engines emit six times as much nitrogen oxide (NOx) and 29 times as much particulate matter (PM) as a Euro 6 main engine.

Transport for London research

In April 2018, Transport for London (TfL) published a report which reflected very similar conclusions. Key points from the report being:

  • Poor air quality causes 9,416 early deaths in London every year and costs the economy £3.7 billion.
  • 25,500 refrigerated vehicles visit Greater London annually, of which 3,500 have second diesel engines.
  • Secondary engines used for refrigerated transport emit 4.5 times more NOx and 30 times more PM than primary engines (Similar to Dearman’s calculations above).
  • These secondary engines account for 9% of CO2 from all temperature-controlled transport which enter London, and 59% of all PM emissions (86 t/annum), and 11% of all NOx emissions (621 t/annum).

TfL’s report goes on to recommend tighter emission standards for refrigerated trucks’ second engines. The pollution impact from these engines is exacerbated by their ability to access government-subsidised diesel, despite the availability of zero emission engines being available on the market. In fact, TfL’s report goes on to say that “The use of red diesel for existing auxTRU units arguably gives an unfair advantage to an excessively polluting engine. Removing TRUs from the NRMM and incorporating them into the main traction engine emission compliance would significantly alter the distribution of diesel auxTRUs on the UK’s roads.”

Comparison with ice cream vans

At Dearman, we have calculated the impact of regulating refrigerated trucks compared to ice creams vans.

NOx emissions from the secondary diesel engine, on a typical refrigerated truck or trailer, are the equivalent of 52 Euro 6 ice creams vans idling in a park for eight hours. The PM emissions from a secondary diesel engine are the same as seven Euro 6 ice cream vans idling in a park for eight hours.

Clearly it makes little sense to target ice creams when these secondary engines for refrigerated trucks are disproportionately more polluting. Councillors of course, quite naturally, also have to weigh up the political impacts of their policies. Cracking down on ice creams is unlikely to be seen as universally popular by voters and by the media- in fact, one national tabloid has already reported this as ice creams vans being “banned by the fun police”.

So it’s fair to say, councillors wanting a more effective and politically less toxic policy step would do well to look at refrigerated trucks instead of ice cream vans.

SOURCE: Dearman