By Jeff Eriks

Waste transfer stations make solid waste collection more efficient,  reduce transportation costs to disposal facilities and saves the environment from the toxic effects.

Municipal solid waste management is critical to keeping cities and communities clean and reducing pollution. Over the past several years, local governments, the federal government, and other bodies have been trying to find solutions to the various issues plaguing municipal solid waste management (MSW).

Transfer stations have proven to be an integral cog in the waste management process. They serve as the link between local waste collection facilities and waste disposal facilities like landfills, waste-to-energy facilities like incinerators, and other important elements of the process like the materials recovery facilities (MRF) and recycling centers.

Building and maintaining an efficient solid waste transfer station is key to having a great solid waste management strategy in any city. These transfer stations offer many distinct advantages that more than justify the costs associated with them. Here in this blog, we will understand waste transfer stations in some detail and also discuss the pros and cons associated with them as well as some of the important aspects to consider while building one. Read on!

What are Waste Transfer Stations and Why are They Important?

Let’s begin our discussion here. A waste transfer station is essentially a midway point between the waste collection mechanism and the waste disposal facilities that you have. This is where the smaller garbage collection vans and even people directly come in to drop off the waste that has been collected. This is then sorted, processed, and compacted to be sent to the respective facilities.

It’s quite a simple but elegant solution to the waste management problem that every city or community faces today. We are living in a time where per capita waste generation is on the rise, to about 4.9 pounds per person per day. For a family, this is almost 18 pounds a day. The USA is already the leading producer of municipal solid waste globally.

With such a high rate of generation, collection and processing of solid waste become highly critical to avoid issues like littering and waste accumulation. Keeping cities and towns clean is certainly a priority to prevent a public health crisis.

There’s also the case of pollution and climate crisis to be considered. We are swiftly approaching a critical juncture in our fight against climate change. Efficient waste management has a very important role to play. It is imperative that we divert as much waste as possible from entering landfills. According to EPA, MSW landfills in 2020 produced as much greenhouse gas emissions as 20.3 million passenger vehicles. This is also roughly the amount of emissions that 11.9 million families generate through their energy use per year.

Diverting waste from entering landfills is a multi-step process. Reduce, reuse and recycle are the mantra. The waste needs to be sorted and segregated to make sure that whatever can be recycled is recovered. Transfer stations also provide an opportunity for organics diversion, green waste, and food waste can be sent to composting facilities or biofuel facilities. 

There’s also the issue of building new landfills. The 1991 federal regulations regarding landfills have enforced quite a number of requirements in terms of building and operating landfills. This increases the cost of building new landfills. There’s also the question of land availability. Increasing resistance from local communities makes building new landfills near residential areas difficult. The other option is to build these facilities far away which increases the transportation costs. Reducing the amount of waste that is sent to landfills is thus not an option but a requirement if local governments have to keep the waste management costs in check.

It’s impossible to manage the whole waste stream without intermediary facilities where aggregating and sorting waste happens. Transfer stations are ideal for these activities. By design, the garbage collection vehicles come in and drop the waste in transfer stations where it is screened and sorted further. Then larger vehicles can haul the garbage off to respective facilities once the sorting is complete.

What are the Advantages of Having a Waste Transfer Station?

Having a waste transfer station makes the overall process more efficient. The collection crew and vehicles are now solely responsible for collecting garbage from the local area and dropping it off at the transfer station. It’s the job of the transfer station staff to screen, sort, and send the garbage to respective facilities or disposal sites.

Here are some of the distinct advantages that a transfer station offers.

  • Efficient load management of trucks and vehicles – Fewer vehicles, fuller loads, reduced truck traffic, and more fuel savings
  • Segregating the waste to be processed at different disposal facilities. Recycle loads can be separated from MSW in transfer stations. Items suitable for incineration plants can also be separated out. 
  • Separate handling of household hazardous waste.
  • Better tracking and recordkeeping of waste that is being managed by the facility.

What are Issues Related to Transfer Station/?

There are certain issues that should be kept in mind when you are thinking about building a waste transfer station. Here are some of them.

  • Noise pollution- A waste transfer station will most certainly increase the noise levels in the area due to the large number of garbage trucks that will be accessing the facility, not to mention the use of heavy machinery like compactors.
  • Odor – This is quite understandable given you are dealing with waste. Usually, the waste transfer facilities are enclosed to prevent the facility from spreading the bad odor throughout the locality
  • Litter and pests – There’s the possibility that the waste transfer facility can lead to littering in the area nearby mainly from trash being carried by wind or falling off trucks. There’s also the chance that the facility will attract insects and rodents from the nearby area. Nothing a bit of facility landscaping and proper pest management can’t control, really.
  • Costs- Finally, building and operating a waste transfer facility is not exactly cheap. You need to spend some dollars to get the facility up and running and of course to maintain it in working condition.

What Should You Take Care of While Building a Waste Transfer Facility?

So far, we’ve discussed the key advantages and issues with building a waste transfer facility. If you’re planning to build one, here are some further aspects to consider:

The Cost-Benefit Analysis

The EPA’s handbook on waste transfer facilities breaks down the cost-benefit analysis of building a transfer station quite well. Depending on the total hauling distance to the nearest disposal facility, a waste transfer station may actually be cheaper than transporting the waste to the facility if the round trip is above 35 miles according to the handbook.

hauling-cost-comparison

Understanding your overall waste management process, looking at the amount of waste being collected and the distance haulers are traveling will tell you if you should actually invest in a waste transfer facility in the first place.

Plan Out the Process

The next thing to do is to plan out the process within the transfer facility. Typically there are 4 steps to the process. This can increase or decrease based on what you are planning with the facility.

  • Arrival – The incoming garbage trucks are first directed to a scale house where you weigh the load and the fees associated with the usage are assessed.
  • Unloading– Trash is then unloaded in the main transfer building. This could be on the floor, into a pit, or onto another vehicle depending on the type of load and where it is headed. Say a truck is bringing in purely organic waste which is to be taken to a composting facility. In this case, this can be directly reloaded onto another truck.
  • Sorting area– This is where the employees screen and sort the garbage being collected. It could be via a conveyor belt or through other means. Consolidation of similar types of waste that are going to different waste disposal facilities is key. The staff can separate items that cannot be collected like batteries or tires. Recyclable materials can also be recovered in this step
  • Reloading – The separated waste can then be processed using compactors. compacting reduces the volume of the waste and helps reduce the number of loads. Commercial vehicles then load this compacted waste and transfer it to the respective disposal facilities.

In addition to these, some transfer facilities also have a public drop-off area where people can bring waste from their homes and drop them off directly without having to rely on garbage collection or dropping them off in dumpsters.

Selecting the Site

Selecting the appropriate site for construction is critical. You need to make sure that land use regulations are being followed while you select the location. It’s also important to keep in mind the traffic considerations. Make sure that the site selection process involves public consultation as well so that you can prevent resistance from the community at a later stage.

Building the Facility

Here’s where you really need the help of experts in the area. Building a waste transfer facility is not a straightforward process. You need technical expertise as the facility needs to withstand heavy use. It also needs to be planned well so that you are utilizing the space available in the best possible way.

The tipping area needs to be built using a special concrete mix to ensure longevity. You do not want to rework this in a few years. The facility also needs proper sturdy walls and well-designed areas to ensure maximum efficiency and safety. The reloading area should also be able to handle road wear from the heavy commercial vehicles using the area. It should also make it easy for loaders to load the garbage onto the trucks easily.

Closing Thoughts

A solid waste transfer station is a critical link in the municipal waste management process. It brings together the various disposal facilities and recycling facilities to improve process efficiency and reduce the environmental impact. By screening and segregating the waste locally at this solid waste facility, you can reduce the hauling costs, and ensure that more waste is being recycled rather than being sent to landfills.

However, building and managing a waste transfer facility effectively takes considerable expertise. You need to ensure that the waste is being handled properly, that there is minimal impact on the environment around the facility, and that the facility can withstand rough use from heavy-duty commercial vehicles and machinery.

Thinking about a waste transfer facility? We at Cambridge have been doing this for almost 3 decades now. We have helped many communities and local governments achieve greater efficiency in waste management. Get in touch with our experts today!

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