The Transfer Station Transition

Transfers stations, the trash world's equivalent of ever-expanding Internet stock companies, have grown exponentially in number in the past few years. The reason is simple: As the nation has shifted from small, local landfills to fewer but larger landfills, the industry has needed more transportation facilities. Although transfer stations historically have served large urban centers with large volumes of waste, today's mega-landfills often are increasingly further from the collection sources, requiring transfer stations to serve practically every area - from the teeming boroughs of New York to the windswept plains of Texas.

Subcontracting for Efficiency Transfer stations today often are subcontracting out part of their operations, such as the loading of trailers or logistical support for the drayage of the wastes. One example of this waste middleman is Specialty Transportation Services Inc. (STS), Portage, Ind., which handles waste transportation in more than 100 transfer stations across the country, moving in excess of 41,000 tons of garbage per day.

Hired by major waste companies across the nation, "in the past three years, they have asked us to participate more in the operation of transfer stations," says Gary Goldberg, STS' president. "Besides the trucking, they've looked to us to do some of the loading, tamping and compacting of garbage."

STS works out of transfer stations that handle as little as 50 tons per day (tpd) to as much as 6,000 tpd, Goldberg says. Consequently, STS provides a variety of equipment to support the transfer operation, including trailers, tippers and compactors.

"Waste companies realize they need to capture the garbage," he says. "In order for them to make the expected margins in their business, they need to get the waste to their own landfills. So they capture the garbage, then bring it to a transfer station and let someone else take it from there."

Rebuilding to Meet New Needs The changing dynamics of the waste industry also are dictating that transfer stations adapt to new operational systems. In the past, New York City's network of transfer stations consisted of small facilities that handled 100 to 200 tpd. However, with the increased size of the waste stream and the pending closure of Staten Island, N.Y.'s Fresh Kills Landfill, transfer stations are becoming more important to efficiently move waste outside the city's boundaries.

For example, Republic Services Inc., Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., rebuilt its Bronx, N.Y., transfer station to handle an additional 2,000 tons of waste per day. Located on a 9-acre site, the original facility was built in the 1960s to handle a much smaller load. When a fire in an adjacent electrical facility damaged the transfer station in 1980, Republic seized the opportunity to rebuild the facility, as well as add offices, mechanic areas and a tipping floor.

Among the modifications were installing a bi-level unloading area and adding covers over all of the facility's loading operations. Vehicles arrive at the transfer station and are scaled; they then drive up a ramp to one of eight unloading bays. Approximately 12 feet below the unloading area is the tip floor. The bays allow drivers to dump their loads directly onto the floor.

"This is a nice feature because it keeps the collection vehicles and personnel away from the heavy machinery that is operating inside the transfer station," says Will Flower, the facility's manager of business development.

Once waste is deposited onto the tip floor, it either is loaded with a grapple onto a short conveyor belt that feeds a compactor to make 20-ton slugs, sent to a baler or loaded into a dump trailer. The facility operates 24 hours per day, six days per week, serving New York Department of Sanitation vehicles, as well as commercial customers. Eighty percent of the waste is shipped using intermodal rail to Virginia landfills.

"The compactor was put in to allow us to use trains," Flower says. "We wanted to move waste from this facility to the disposal operations."

Yet while this has improved operations and made working conditions safer, Flower says the transfer station will continue to evolve. "Transfer stations have evolved into state-of-the-art facilities," he says. "Right now, we're talking about putting scales in the tip floor area so that we can load right onto a scale."

Mothballs to Market Share In the Los Angeles area - wrought by recent mergers and acquisitions - another Republic company, Consolidated Disposal Service, Santa Fe Springs, Calif., is using its purchase as an opportunity to remodel its transfer station.

Originally owned by American Waste, the transfer station, which is located in the city of Gardena, Calif., was acquired by Waste Management Inc. At the same time, Waste Management merged with Houston-based USA Waste. USA Waste also was operating a transfer station within seven miles of American Waste's facility.

To avoid duplicating efforts and competing against itself, Waste Management decided to close the American Waste facility in 1997 and turn it into a portable toilet yard, which infuriated the city.

USA never considered using the facility to transfer waste, says John Harabedian, Consolidated's director of operations. "They didn't plan on opening it up as a transfer station ever again [but] we were able to make it part of the deal when Republic and USA did their purchase and swaps."

With all of its mergers and acquisitions, Waste Management eventually had to meet divestiture requirements and ended up selling the facility to Consolidated Disposal in November 1998. Now, the station serves Republic Waste's operations throughout the Los Angeles area and moves about 58 transfer trailer loads per day to the Chiquita Landfill 52 miles north. Although the station moves 30,000 tons a month, "we're not even close to hitting our permitted tonnage, which is 2,225 a day," Harabedian says. "We plan on being very close to that within the next six months."

In the meantime, construction has begun to enclose the entire transfer station, including the tipping floor, scale house area and loading pit, he says.

The Gardena transfer station has been operating since the 1950s. "It stayed [a] mom-and-pop [operation] until about 1991, when it was torn down and rebuilt as a state-of-the-art facility," Harabedian says.

Now, the facility features steering-axle scales and computer management systems. The tip floor is being enclosed, and the north property is undergoing some cosmetic changes such as installation of wrought-iron fences and development of truck parking, Harabedian says.

Of course, the Los Angeles transfer market will continue to change, but Harabedian says his facility will keep pace with the changes. "We definitely are aggressive," he says. "I'm going to bring in another 20 routes. My goal is to be at 1,800 tons [per day] within the next five months."

Refuse Rides by Rail As one of the country's newer transfer stations, Salt Lake Valley's Solid Waste Management Facility, South Salt Lake City, Utah, which opened in June 1999, incorporates modern conveniences to make transferring refuse less time-consuming and costly. "Instead of 12 to 15 minutes, after [trucks] go across the scales and out to the tipping face, they go in and out of the transfer station in three minutes," says Romney Stewart, director of solid waste management. "For two or three loads a day, that adds up." About 800 tpd, or 200,000 tons of waste per year, are funneled through Lake Valley, Stewart says.

Located on a former Brownfields site, the Salt Lake Valley facility, which provides waste transfer services for the area's approximately 476,000 residents, is at the south end of a rail yard with immediate access to an interstate. As trucks enter the facility, their waste is loaded by front loaders directly onto 40-feet-by-12-feet-by-811/42-feet intermodal containers.

"We tarp the top of the container and then a crane lifts the container with a hoist and places it on the rail car," Stewart says. "An empty container is picked up from an adjoining rail car and put on the cradle car which goes back under the floor opening."

From there, waste is transported to the South Salt Lake City's East Carbon Landfill, which is owned by Allied Waste Industries, Scottsdale, Ariz. The waste is not moved over public roads, since the East Carbon facility has its own rail yards and private roads, Stewart says. Currently, the Salt Lake Valley facility loads 20 containers, the equivalent of 10 rail cars. But the facility can accommodate up to 1,500 tpd, Stewart says, to provide sufficient future capacity to meet the growing needs of the region.

Examples such as these provide an insight into the changing dynamics of the waste transfer business. Considering that no part of the country is immune from the affects of consolidation or dwindling numbers of landfills, the ultimate level of efficiency in the solid waste system might depend on these facilities in the middle of the process.