The average American produces more than 4 pounds of solid waste each day. As the population of our cities and towns increases, the pile of solid waste they generate gets higher and higher. Unfortunately, the amount of space available in regional landfills cannot keep up with the increased demand, and all that trash has to go somewhere. Transfer stations offer an appealing solution to solid waste managers looking to hold their trash temporarily until it can be carted away.
Transfer stations offer a range of benefits. Consolidating waste from multiple collection vehicles and agencies—then hauling it via large transport containers—is more economical than hauling the waste directly to a landfill truck by truck. Transfer stations let solid waste managers screen loads, separate recyclables, and ensure that no hazardous waste or other undesirable materials enter the waste stream.
A transfer station is far more than a simple shed where waste gets dumped for a few hours before a trailer or rail car carries it away. There are a number of things a solid waste manager should keep in mind to ensure that his facility runs as efficiently as possible to best serve the community.
The Ben Lomond Transfer Station in the county of Santa Cruz, Calif., processes 100 tons of solid waste per day. Open since 1991, the facility received a bronze award for Transfer Station Excellence from the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) in 1998. The station features a full-scale recycling drop-off center for curbside materials, scrap metal, appliances, mattresses, tires, carpet, foam, e-waste, used motor fluids, and car batteries. The site also includes a wood- and yard-waste processing facility (which sits on top of the closed landfill adjacent to the transfer station) and a permanent household hazardous waste facility.
According to Patrick Mathews, recycling and solid waste services manager for the county, the facility has provided the area's citizens with a number of benefits, including recycling and disposal services for the remote and rural areas in the county that do not have mandatory collection services. In addition, the transfer station's existence reduces the amount of vehicle traffic on the county's already-congested Highway 1 corridor.
Joseph Stockbridge, director of the division of environmental services for Colonie, N.Y., added that a transfer station can serve as a backup in contingencies. “We use our transfer station as an insurance policy,” he said. “The transfer station can handle all the wastes if our landfill is not operating due to an emergency, and it allows us to keep the big trucks and the little trucks separate.”
If your agency has opted to add a transfer station to its solid waste arsenal, there are several important factors to think of. “You should plan for variations in future traffic flow patterns in your design, particularly with new programs that are not yet developed,” said
Mathews. “Also, plan for program expansion and leave room for new recycling and waste diversion program development in the future.” Mathews added that transfer station operators should anticipate regular replacement and repair of the wear surfaces—including load-out pits and concrete push floors—and take into consideration during the design process ways to make such repairs easier and less costly.
He also suggested using a material recovery facility for automated or hand-sorting of recoverable materials that get mixed into the waste stream. Also, restricting disposal of recyclable items will help reduce transfer costs for residuals. Managers should use transfer station staff to direct customers to sort items into recoverable and non-recoverable piles as they off-load on the tipping floor.
Transfer station managers can improve operation at their facility by making sure they catch things that other managers often overlook. This list includes pre-compaction of waste on the tip floor to maximize transfer load weights, restricting oversized items that bind up in transfer trucks and waste space, using a tipping floor spotter to direct traffic and police recycling policies, and paying careful attention to wear surface maintenance. Mathews advised that if a transfer station staff is not attentive to care and maintenance, the cost of repairs can increase exponentially.
The most important attribute of a transfer station, however, is not the equipment at the facility, but the people that run it. Before your transfer station opens for business, Mathews advised, make sure the staff running the facility is well trained. For example, a well-educated staff can help alleviate one of the greatest challenges a transfer station faces: keeping recyclable items out of the refuse stream.
“We put well-trained staff in our cashier stations and on the tipping floor to police for excessive disposal of recyclable items,” said Mathews. “We also provide many recycling opportunities throughout our facilities to support recycling and make it easy.”
Also, people skills are an important—and often overlooked—quality that transfer station personnel should possess. “Good customer service and education about waste reduction starts at your gatehouse—train your cashiers and weighmasters well in customer relations and outreach,” said Mathews. “Remember, these people have direct face-to-face contact with hundreds and thousands of people each week and can make a huge difference in your programs.”