What Is a Waste Transfer Station?

What You Need to Know About Waste Transfer Stations

Waste management worker positions green bin on the automatic dumper at the back of truck.
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A waste transfer station is a light industrial facility where municipal solid waste is temporarily staged in the course of its eventual journey to the landfill or waste-to-energy facility.

Waste transfer stations are a necessary part of municipal waste management. However, their locations and operations can sometimes be controversial within communities where they are located.

Learn how waste transfer stations work and how they can impact communities.

What Is a Waste Transfer Station?

The transfer station is the central location where municipal solid waste is brought by collection crews. Once there, it is unloaded from smaller vehicles and loaded into larger ones, such as:

  • Long-haul trucks
  • Trains
  • Barges

The larger vehicles then take the waste to the final collection or disposal sites.

Transferring waste from local collection vehicles onto larger trailers or other transport modes reduces the cost of transportation to distant disposal sites. This frees collection-specific vehicles and crews to devote their time to actual collection activities within the community.

Waste transfer stations are a key component of cost-effective solid waste transportation.

How a Waste Transfer Station Works

Typical activities at the waste transfer station involve the unloading of garbage trucks, screening and removal of inappropriate items (such as automobile batteries), compacting loads, and reloading onto larger vehicles.

The facility typically includes a scale location and an enclosed building where tippage and transfer take place. The property requires adequate space to facilitate the queuing of vehicles at the scale and the main building.

Waste transfer stations also need space to accommodate the parking of outbound transfer trailers and for staging unacceptable garbage. In addition to scales, transfer stations typically use equipment such as front-end loaders, cranes, conveyors, walking floors, and compactors.

In urban areas, the location of waste transfer stations can be very controversial. Such facilities are therefore typically fully enclosed. They may be co-located with a material recovery center. 

The day-to-day operations of a transfer station generally include:

  • Arrivals and scale: Inbound commercial vehicles are first directed to the scale house. Loads are weighed, and tippage fees are assessed as applicable.
  • Public drop off: If a transfer station allows the public also to drop off solid waste, there may be a separate queue and scale for this purpose. Some waste transfer stations provide space for the public to drop off green waste or other approved recyclables.
  • Tipping: Vehicles are unloaded at the main transfer building. Solid waste may be dropped onto the floor, into a pit, or immediately onto another vehicle.
  • Processing: Transfer station employees will screen the waste for any unauthorized materials. Compactors are used at some transfer stations to compact waste and thereby increase the payload of outbound trailers.

Waste transfer stations require customer service and scale house operators, traffic controllers, equipment operators, maintenance mechanics, as well as other technical and management staff.

Benefits of Waste Transfer Stations

Waste transfer stations are a critical part of the waste management process. They provide a variety of benefits to the community, including:

  • Fuel savings, reduction in road wear, and less air pollution due to fewer vehicles being on the road
  • Trash, green waste, and recyclable material drop-off location for residents
  • Reduced traffic congestion in the community by consolidating loads onto larger vehicles
  • Reduced total truck traffic and improves safety at the landfill or waste-to-energy facility.
  • Removing hazardous waste or recovering recyclables

Criticism of Waste Transfer Stations

Although waste transfer stations are a vital component of modern waste management programs, the location of such stations can be a flashpoint for local communities.

Residents may have a variety of concerns about the construction of a nearby transfer station. Many of these can be addressed through careful facility design.

Common Concerns About Waste Transfer Stations and Their Solutions
 Concern  Solution
Increased truck traffic near the station Choosing locations in industrially zoned locations with easy access to major transportation routes
Noise associated with heavy trucks, front-end loaders, and conveyors Design details such as setback, sound barriers, and enclosures
Odor from trash collection, especially if operations become backed up Attention to facility and doorway location, air venting systems, and a first in-first out system to ensure that garbage does not remain at the transfer station longer than necessary
Rodents, birds, and other pests attracted by waste Ensuring the facility is enclosed, as well as creating a pest management plan that includes regularly cleaning
Litter flying from trucks or the transfer station Use of both tarps and facility landscaping to create barriers against litter being picked up by wind

Key Takeaways

  • A waste transfer station is the central location where municipal solid waste is brought by collection crews. Once there, it is unloaded from smaller vehicles and loaded into larger ones and taken to the final collection or disposal sites.
  • Transferring waste from local collection vehicles onto larger trailers or other transport modes reduces the cost of transportation to distant disposal sites. This frees collection-specific vehicles and crews to devote their time to actual collection activities within the community.
  • Waste transfer stations are a necessary part of municipal waste management. However, their locations and operations can sometimes be controversial within communities where they are located.
  • Residents may have a variety of concerns about the construction of a nearby transfer station. Many of these can be addressed through careful facility design.