To Transfer or Not To Transfer?

That is the question the city of Cincinnati seeks to answer.

As landfill costs rise and with flow control's demise, you might have heard about the promises that accompany building a transfer station. These facilities can minimize a community's solid waste management costs, eliminate the need to site or expand controversial disposal facilities, provide more access to competitively priced disposal or processing capacity, improve collection route productivity, reduce vehicle and crew safety risks, and provide an opportunity for new services, experts say.

But how do you determine whether these promises will really pan-out for you?

First, don't jump head first into consolidating hauls. Any solid waste facility development — including a transfer station — rarely receives overwhelming public support — even despite its potential benefits. Plans often fail because the people involved fail to examine their alternatives, and they develop action plans without a thorough understanding of the whole system. Instead, people often react with a limited understanding of their own needs and perceptions.

However, by using a “Systems Thinking” approach, communities can evaluate the need for a transfer station, select an appropriate technology and design, develop the institutional arrangements that make sense, and build consensus among decision-makers and community stakeholders for transferring waste.

A Systems Thinking process can include using issue mapping, creating behavior over-time charts, designing casual loop diagrams and forming dynamic modeling to help communities evaluate their solid waste management options, including the need for transfer stations and the siting process.

Scenes from Cincinnati

For example, the city of Cincinnati recently used a Systems Thinking approach when considering a transfer station and an acceptable site for such a facility.

In its preliminary investigation, the city, along with R.W. Beck, Orlando, Fla., compared two disposal alternatives:

  • Direct-hauling — Where waste collection trucks deliver loads directly to a landfill (as Cincinnati currently does); and

  • Transfer-hauling — where collection trucks unload at an enclosed transfer station and waste is consolidated for hauling in another, larger vehicle.

By using tools such as a decision tree [see Cincinnati Decision Tree on page 112], the city discovered it could benefit by transfer-hauling as disposal sites become more distant. The evaluation process also indicated that a transfer station would be likely to stimulate price competition among landfill disposal companies. Thus, Cincinnati decided to move forward with the transfer station's institutional and siting steps.

Because Cincinnati is committed to an open, public-based site selection process, the city established a Transfer Station Site Selection Advisory Committee (SSAC). Through this group, which is composed of 19 citizens, representing 13 communities and six organizations, the public was kept informed about Cincinnati's current collection and disposal practices, as well as the function and need for a transfer station. Additionally, the committee toured two transfer stations in Ohio to get a first-hand look at how the facilities work. Regulatory agencies that permit and oversee such facilities also educated the SSAC members.

Once the information-gathering phase was completed, the SSAC created criteria to screen potential sites. The process began with issues-mapping. Committee members discussed what would make a site appropriate or inappropriate for a transfer station, as well as what would make a community receptive to a transfer station.

The responses were categorized into:

  • Threshold criteria (“pass/fail” type);

  • Evaluation criteria (for which there are degrees of appropriateness); and

  • Investigative criteria (more intensive, site-specific studies).

Eventually, the SSAC developed quantitative and qualitative measures for evaluating a site in each category, and considerations such as environmental justice issues also were addressed. The SSAC members gave weight to each criteria to express the relevance of each measure to the specific neighborhood or organization they represented.

Currently, Cincinnati has begun identifying sites. The city is using a CAGIS mapping system as well as field visits to develop a short-list of locations. Once the short-listed sites are confirmed, site-specific investigation will be performed.

Additional educational outreach will be provided to inform citizens in the potentially affected communities about the project, the process used to short-list sites, the types of additional investigation that will be conducted and the potential benefits of serving as a host community. Eventually, the short-list sites will be ranked by priority.

While the process is not yet complete, Cincinnati believes its commitment to the Systems Thinking process allows for cooperative decision-making among key project stakeholders. But more importantly, the city believes the process capitalized on city staff's recognition of the importance of planning now for a transfer station, rather than reacting to a solid waste crisis in the future.

Transfer stations may offer clear benefits to communities, but the process of evaluating the need, calculating the benefits and wading through the siting process can be challenging. A critical part of planning for a facility is finding a suitable site in a willing host community.

By relying on the Systems Thinking process, the SSAC ensured that neighborhood interests will be adequately addressed in the siting process. Additionally, the city believes this process will help it overcome potential challenges by stakeholders and decision-makers, and successfully develop a facility to meet the Cincinnati's short- and long-term community waste disposal needs.

Debbie R. Miller is a senior consultant with R.W. Beck Inc., Orlando, Fla.

This article is based on “To Transfer or Not to Transfer? How to Answer to the Question,” which will be presented from 1:45-3:45 p.m. on Thursday, October 26 in room 213-214, during WASTECON 2000. The article is being printed with the permission of SWANA, Silver Spring, Md.