When waste makes its journey from the source (like your household garbage bin) to its final destination (like a landfill or waste-to-energy [WTE] facility), it will often travel via a waste transfer station. Read on to learn more about the important role this stopover point plays in the waste management cycle.
What is a waste transfer station?
A waste transfer station is a type of light industrial facility that serves as a “staging post” for waste en route to disposal. Typical activities carried out at a waste transfer station include unloading municipal garbage trucks, pre-screening the waste, removing items that should not be disposed of in a landfill or WTE facility (like automobile batteries), compacting the waste, and loading compacted trash onto larger trucks, trains, or barges to be taken to its final destination.
In addition, waste transfer stations serve as waste and recyclable material drop-off locations for community residents who either do not have curbside waste and recycling collection or need to dispose of items that municipal waste management services will not accept.
What are the benefits of waste transfer stations?
The transfer station plays a key role in making sure that waste management and transportation services remain efficient and cost effective. Some of the main benefits associated with waste transfer stations include:
More cost-effective long-distance transportation—Because waste can be consolidated at the transfer station and removed via larger modes of transport such as barges or trains, the overall cost of transporting the waste to a landfill, which may be hundreds of miles away from the communities where the waste originated, can be significantly reduced. In addition, when local collection vehicles do not have to transport the waste to its final destination themselves, they can focus on carrying out their actual collection activities in a more thorough and timely manner.
Fewer vehicles on the road—Transporting waste with a few large vehicles as opposed to many smaller ones has the effect of reducing the number of vehicles on the road overall. This helps save on fuel, decrease air pollution, reduce road wear and tear, diminish traffic congestion in the community, and improve safety at the landfill or WTE facility at the end of the journey.
Opportunity for waste screening—Bringing waste to a transfer station creates an opportunity to ensure that no hazardous waste items are being disposed of improperly. Many consumers don’t know how to dispose of hazardous waste correctly, and these items can cause significant health and environmental problems if they end up in the landfill. The screening that takes place at waste transfer stations also helps recover recyclable materials or other items that potentially still have value.
Resource for community residents—Waste transfer stations can serve as important community resources for residents looking to dispose of waste items outside of (or in the absence of) municipal collection services or who need information on how to handle their household waste and recyclables more effectively.
What are the concerns associated with waste transfer stations?
Despite their benefits and the integral role they play in modern waste management programs, waste transfer stations can be controversial, particularly in densely populated urban areas where they often provoke a “not in my backyard” sentiment among local residents. Many concerns, however, can be resolved by putting particular management measures in place. These include:
Truck traffic—While waste transfer stations help reduce the overall number of vehicles on the road, truck traffic in the immediate vicinity of the transfer station itself often increases as fleets of municipal collection vehicles make their way to the transfer station with their incoming trash. This concern can be addressed by ensuring that waste transfer stations are located in areas zoned for industrial use that provide easy access to major transportation routes.
Noise—Residents are often concerned about the noise created by heavy equipment in operation at waste transfer stations, as well as the trucks going in and out. However, appropriate setbacks, sound barriers, and enclosures are all ways to limit noise pollution in the surrounding area.
Odors—Depending on the type of trash accepted at the transfer station and the length of time it is held there, odor can be a problem at some stations. Proper attention to facility and doorway location, the installation of appropriate air venting systems, and a “first in, first out” system limiting how long garbage remains at the facility can help to mitigate odor problems.
Pests—To avoid problems like rodents or scavenging birds in the vicinity, waste transfer stations should be regularly emptied and cleaned thoroughly. A comprehensive pest management program should also be put in place.
Litter—Flying litter from trucks, or litter scattered from the transfer station itself, is another concern shared by transfer station neighbors. The facility can help limit this problem by designing its landscaping in such a way as to provide a wind barrier, thus preventing litter from being carried out of the station by gusts. Collection vehicle operators can help limit litter by ensuring their loads are fully tarped before nearing the station.