Mini Facilities, Mighty Challenges

Managers at today's small transfer stations are proving they are adept at meeting the changing demands.

In addition to smaller staffs, less equipment and tighter budgets, small transfer station managers are facing increasing waste volumes coming into their facilities. To find out how today's managers are coping with these challenges, Waste Age brought together a panel of small transfer station operators to answer a series of questions.

These managers include: - Richard Ritter, supervisor for the City of Artesia Transfer Station, Artesia, N.M.;

- Wendell Roth, manager of the Madison County Transfer Station, Rexburg, Idaho;

- Leonard Gosda, supervisor for the Glenwood Transfer Station, Lane County, Ore.; and

- Dennis Bates, foreman for the Jefferson County Transfer Station, Port Townsend, Wash.

Waste Age (WA): What are some of the operational issues unique to small transfer stations?

Ritter: Right now, I am having a problem getting the equipment I need to take care of my recyclables. One thing that will help is collecting the tipping fees for commercial [waste, which we began collecting] in August. That will be money available for me to replace equipment.

Roth: We don't have any extra equipment. Everything we have, we use every day. I can't afford to have any down-time, so we keep almost new equipment all the time. If we were a bigger transfer station, we would have more backup equipment.

Gosda: I run 16 transfer stations, and the biggest [operational issues] for smaller sites is providing services. The small sites cost us the most to run. We collect fees at all of our sites and we use that money to transfer [waste] to the landfill. About half of our fee is used to haul the garbage and for the recycling program.

If we did not have commercial hauling to the landfill and to our big transfer site, we would not have the revenue to keep the little transfer sites open. I get a budget to run the whole recycling system, and whether it is a big or a small site, the needs are taken care of out of that budget.

Bates: We also have recycling and composting in our facility, so we're operating with a minimal staff. We have three part-time and two full-time employees. A lot of our work is done by contractors.

WA: Which recyclables do you process?

Ritter: We recycle metal and brush yard waste. I need a tub grinder to do the job right. I don't take [construction and demolition] C&D waste [because] there are other places around here that take it

Roth: We accept milk [cartons], aluminum and cardboard at no charge because we can recycle those. The price of recycled materials is dropping, and recycling around here really has slowed down because of the price drop.

Bates: We handle mixed waste paper, newspaper, cardboard, plastics, brown and clear glass, tin cans and C&D. We take all waste, but I operate a hazwaste facility, too.

WA: How are tipping fees affecting your business?

Ritter: This transfer station serves the city of Artesia and North Eddy County, N.M., so we take in household waste from the county too. We don't [charge] private citizens to tip right now. [Only] commercial tippers [are being charged].

Roth: In Madison County, Idaho, every household pays $10 as a fee. In Freemont County, the neighboring county, we pay $60 for the landfill fee. We have a lot of problems because [the counties] are quite close. In the neighboring county, there is no charge for [tipping at the] landfills. So, a lot of people from Madison County go to the Freemont landfills and try to dump their garbage [there]. They don't charge a fee, so they have to watch that in their counties.

When we first began charging by fee, a lot of people were angry at us because we wanted to charge them. They had always paid [to tip] through their taxes, so it didn't appear to cost them anything. A lot of people were [upset] because they didn't understand it.

Gosda: We charge a tipping fee at all of our sites at the gate. Currently our tipping fee is $47 per ton. Private waste is charged by volume because we don't have a scale. Without a tipping fee, we wouldn't be able to operate. Our revenues come strictly from tipping fees.

Bates: [Our tipping fee] is $113.96 per ton. All of our money comes from tipping fees, including transporting and recycling.

WA: Have you felt the effect of a shrinking number of landfills in your area?

Ritter: Yes, that was part of the deal when we built this transfer station. The state was trying to regionalize landfills so they could better control them. This area couldn't agree on a regional [landfill], so the city put in a transfer station, and we're sending our trash to South Eddy County landfill.

Roth: We don't have a place in Madison County that satisfactorily meets Subtitle D landfill regulations and is cost-effective. We had to close our landfill. Madison County is very fortunate because [it is] a small county, but we have very little ground that is not taxed. The county also is growing rapidly, but the fees that we charge have not changed since we started in 1994.

We are able to do that because we have more garbage, which makes it cheaper. We are using the same building, the same equipment, and we're running a lot more garbage through it. We charge by the incoming ton, and the increase in tonnage helps us offset our profit margin. We get more business with fewer landfills.

Gosda: A lot of the transfer stations in our area were landfills at one time. The [state] Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) regulations made it much more restrictive to [run a landfill]. Since landfills have to be lined now, it was cost-prohibitive [to line] all of these little [sites]. We ended up closing the old landfills and moved to one central landfill.

Bates: We haven't felt anything yet, but I think we will because of [less] competition. We have two landfills to pick from - one in Washington and one in Oregon. I think about 95 percent or more of the county's landfills have been closed. So, eventually we're going to have no competition, and the remaining landfills will have control of the market.

WA: How are you addressing your current problems, and what challenges are you planning for in the next 5 to 10 years?

Ritter: Right now, our biggest challenge is trying to get our [operation] to more efficiently recycle what's coming into our facility. We're also hoping to purchase a tub grinder in the near future. The equipment that I'm using now is outdated. I need to replace it, and part of the reason for the tipping fees is to help me do that. Of course, there are small things that need to be done [such as] ongoing upkeep and beautification.

Roth: The biggest challenge now is keeping up with the growth. It also is going to be difficult with the money we have coming in to meet the wage demands that are required to keep good people working for us. Money just gets tighter all the time. Right now, we've been coming up with ways to offset our income. For example, in our recycling [program], we recycle what we can make money on. If we can't make money on an item, we don't recycle it. It is cheaper to bury it.

Gosda: The biggest challenge is that our [small transfer stations] don't pay for themselves. Every year or year and a half we've looked at closing some of them because they are not a profitable part of our business. But a political environment controls whether they stay open. As long as we can maintain the level of service that we have now, we probably will stay in business.

The only other problem I see is privatization. Right now, we are a government agency, and there is a lot of talk about privatization. We're not trying to make money, we're just trying to exist and keep our landfill and operation running.

Bates: Our challenge is to provide service to the public at a reasonable cost and to provide funding for recycling and hazardous waste. Our No. 1 priority for this year is to look at other forms of funding besides tipping fees. We are looking at our options, such as [establishing] solid waste disposal districts. There are about five or six different types of solid waste disposal districts, and that probably is the best way to go. That way, recycling would pay for itself. The more we recycle, the less money we have for the whole department.

WA: Have you seen an increase in waste volumes, and if so, how do you plan to accommodate that?

Ritter: We've noticed that the volume has gone up. We added another trash trailer to help handle the additional [volume].

Roth: We were fortunate enough that our building was built to accommodate several years of expansion. We are looking for more property for C&D sites. We try to keep all of our equipment in relatively new condition so we don't have any down-time so that we can keep up with the growth.

Gosda: In total, yes. But just in garbage, no. We have several materials recycling facilities (MRFs) in our community, so we have a lot of garbage that is being deferred to them. As a result, our volumes are staying about the same. Consequently, I call that an increase even though we are not seeing it at our transfer station.

All of my transfer sites currently have plenty of room for growth. Some of the small transfer stations were built before we closed the landfills and before we had a fee structure. This was back in the days where garbage [disposal] was free. Then, they hauled a lot more from the small transfer stations. When we began charging a fee there, it lowered the amount of garbage that we received at the small transfer stations. So there is a lot of room for growth. Most of my small transfer sites have room for four or six 20-yard drop boxes, and we are [only] running two or four boxes in them.

Bates: We have the capability of taking in twice as much as we are taking right now. We have a small building that we dump the waste into, and we have a backhoe to push the materials into a trailer. We also have a Grizzly that we use to compact the waste into the trailers. I have seen an increase in the volume over the past five years. We've increased about 5 percent per year in the past four or five years.

WA: How much waste does your transfer station process?

Ritter: We've been averaging between 300 yards and 400 yards a day, six days a week. I use yards because we have 100-cubic-yard trailers and we figure that amount per trailer.

Roth: When we closed [our landfill in 1994] and started the transfer station, Madison County was generating about 22 tons per day, and now we're generating about 35 tons per day, so, it has increased quite a bit.

Gosda: The small transfer stations handle close to 4 tons per week in the winter, and 8 tons per week in the summer. Out of [the small transfer stations], we probably haul one box of garbage per week.

Bates: We average about 260 tons per week.

WA: Why was your small transfer station built?

Ritter: The city-owned landfill we were using filled up and they closed it. It was too expensive to build another landfill, so they [built] the transfer station instead.

Roth: We built it because Subtitle D regulations forced us to close several landfills.

Gosda: Some of the little [transfer stations] are in remote communities [because] they wanted to provide service to them. We have a transfer station at almost every little community in Lane County, Ore.

Bates: Our landfill was mostly full, and with the new regulations for liners, the county decided it was cheaper to transport waste than it was to build another landfill. It is easier to ship waste out and have someone else take care of it all in larger amounts. We used to have several [transfer stations] in the county, but we're down to one. It wasn't cost effective to haul and transport the garbage from the other transfer stations.

WA: Do you have any advice for our readers who are considering building a transfer station?

Ritter: Plan for any increase in volume in the future and establish an equitable recycling program, which will help with the volume. Also, work with the public and establish a good relationship.

Roth: Go out and look at existing facilities, and then decide what [type of transfer station] will do the best job. Then talk to the people that are working in that transfer station to get their ideas on what's [effective]. Also, ask them what could be done better. The people who are working at the transfer stations have a lot different ideas on how it should be built. You have to find a facility [similar to the one you want to build].

Gosda: The first thing you have to do is decide if you want to use trailers or boxes. Think long-range. Try to look at your community and anticipate what your volume will be based on history.

Also consider why are you building a transfer station there. Is it replacing a landfill, or is it a new transfer station because your other area is too busy? How many people are you trying to draw into that transfer station?

If you have an old landfill where you know what your volumes are, then you know roughly what you are going to haul. Determine the equipment you will need. Look for how much room you have to build the facility.

Recycling is growing every day, and recycling takes up a lot more room than the boxes for garbage. Think about growth and the future.

Bates: Get the proper design and proper equipment, and figure out the best way to get the public in and out of the transfer station as quick as possible.

We designed our facility as small as possible to [make it easier to] maintain. I see a lot of facilities that build large buildings, and that just costs more to maintain.

If you are a small public facility like we are, then be careful how your contracts are written. [Make sure] to get contractors that will provide the service at a reasonable cost.

Equipment: Mack trucks, East live floor trailers, Kenworth roll-off trucks, 40-yard bins, Case skid steer with Setco tires, Ford dump truck, Grizzly knuckle boom crane. Equipment at C&D site includes a 936 Caterpillar loader and a D7 Caterpillar dozer.

Volume Processed: About 35 tons per day.

Source and Percentage of Waste: City of Rexburg 60 percent MSW; Ricks College PSI 20 percent MSW; Private haulers 10 percent household waste (HW); Residential 10 percent HW.

Employees: 8 employees total, which also includes an office manager, a C&D operator, a floor manager, two truck drivers.

Service Area: The city of Rexburg and Madison County, Idaho.

Tipping Fees: $50 per ton or 50 cents per bag at the transfer station. Other counties charge on their taxes. At the C&D site, the fee is by the size of the vehicle, pickup, 6-wheeler, etc.

Most Interesting Things Found in the Trash: More than $6,000 in $20 bills, eight to a sheet.

Equipment: John Deere front-end loader, Case Backhoe, Grizzly Crane.

Volume Processed: About 350 cubic yards per day.

Source and Percentage of Waste: City collections, both residential and commercial 60 percent; Private haulers 20 percent; Commercial haulers 15 percent; C&D 5 percent.

Employees: Four employees total, two operators and two laborers

Service Area: City of Artesia, North Eddy County and South Chaves County, N.M.

Tipping Fees: $124 commercial per ton.

Most Interesting Things Found in the Trash: Cell phones and two-way radios.

Equipment: D-8 Caterpillar crawler tractor, Caterpillar carrier IT-28, Volvo rail box tracks with rail trailers, Freightliner tractors, Western Whitestar tractors, chain-drive trailer and live floor trailers.

Volume Processed: 12,000 tons of garbage per month, and 43 tons of recyclables per month.

Source and Percentage of Waste: Residential 90 percent; Commercial 10 percent.

Employees: 70 employees total, which consist of truck drivers, crawler operators, recyclers, packer operators and fee takers.

Service Area: Lane County, Ore.

Tipping Fees: $47 per ton.

Most Interesting Things Found in the Trash: Money and rings.

Equipment: 310 SE John Deere backhoe, 215 SW Grizzly knuckle boom crane.

Volume Processed: 16,800 tons in 2000; 14,843 tons in 1999; 13,862 tons in 1998; and 13,843 tons in 1997.

Capacity: 25,700 tons per year (85 tons per day).

Sources and Percentage of Waste: City contract hauler 29.2 percent; County franchiser hauler, 32.3 percent; Self-hauler total, 38.5 percent.

Self-hauler Breakdown: Government agencies 2.1 percent; Commercial 5.2 percent; Individuals 31.2 percent.

Employees: Scale operators, transfer station attendants, supervisor, solid waste coordinator, solid waste education coordinator, manager.

Service Area: Jefferson County, Wash., on the Olympic peninsula.

Tipping Fees: Jefferson County Transfer Station - $110 per ton+tax; Clallam County Transfer Station - $140 per ton & landfill - $76 per ton; Mason County Transfer - $63 per ton; Kitsap County Landfill - $56 per ton.

Most Interesting Things Found in the Trash: A motorcycle that runs well.

Note: All costs quoted, 1999 survey, Washington State Association of Counties. Note that charges reflect local fee schedules, local system debt and local programs paid from the disposal fee, and may not be directly comparable. Information reported by Richard Talbot, solid waste coordinator.