Unmanned Waste Station

When Dean DeLong first mentions the idea of an unmanned, automated transfer station that relies on residents to source-separate their materials and take them to designated drop-off sites, many people don't think it's feasible.

How do you train drivers to operate the facility? What about contamination? And how do you pay for program costs? they ask.

But with the Blakeslee Consolidation Center, Blakeslee, Pa., DeLong, executive director of the Monroe County Municipal Waste Management Authority (MCMWMA), is providing the answers. The automated transfer station operates just fine without any people, and it also is paying off, earning the county anywhere from $8,000 to $16,000 per month in sales of recyclables.

Located on the eastern edge of Pennsylvania, Monroe County is the state's fastest growing county — approximately 115 people move there each week. Skiers and newlyweds also have been known to flock to what DeLong calls one of the country's “honeymoon capitals.” “Resorts, ski slopes and the Pocono International race track account for at least 60 percent of the income to the county, and their share of solid waste reaches 30 percent at times,” he says. “We had 150,000 people at each of the two NASCAR races, which yielded 58 tons of trash over three days for each event.”

The state's Act 101, established in 1988, requires each county to divert 25 percent of its waste and mandates which recyclables must be collected. But by the late '90s, increasing numbers of residents and tourists, who sometimes double the county's population, were straining all local government services, including recycling.

To meet the mandate, the county examined how private haulers consolidated their waste to be more efficient. The MCMWMA identified a large landfill located 17 miles from the county seat in Stroudsburg, but no materials recovery facility (MRF) within 40 miles of the county was large enough to handle the growing tonnages of recyclables.

After studying the costs of building and operating its own traditional MRF, the MCMWMA decided to create what DeLong calls the first fully automated consolidation center, a transfer station that operates unmanned 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.


Seven recycling depots manufactured by Haul-All Equipment Systems, Alberta, Canada, and distributed by VQuip Inc., Burlington, Ontario, now are strategically located throughout the county to allow tourists and the area's 140,000 residents to conveniently dispose of source-separated materials any time of day. The county accepts cardboard, newspaper, glass, junk mail and magazines combined, steel and aluminum cans combined, and plastics No. 1 and No. 2 combined.

Depots are designed so that it is nearly impossible to put the wrong commodity in the inappropriate bin. And an enforcement officer patrols the depots to prevent contamination.

Twice a day, when the bins are full, three drivers operating two trucks collect the recyclables and drive them to the Consolidation Center, which opened in October 2001.

“We like our collection system because of its simplicity and speed,” DeLong says. “The trucks we use can compact plastic and OCC [old corrugated cardboard] during collection to lower costs by improving transfer.”

As the recyclables from the depots arrive at the facility, drivers enter a pass code into a keypad, which opens the electric gate at the entrance. The driver then proceeds onto a Fairbanks scale and, using a keypad, identifies his vehicle and which commodity is onboard. The driver then leaves the scale and drives to the transtor bin for that recyclable and unloads the commodity. Once unloading is complete, the driver weighs his truck again and receives a tare ticket.

“If it's a dual load, say half newspaper and half magazines, the driver dumps the first commodity, returns to the scale for another weigh, then dumps the other half,” DeLong says. With a single commodity, the average time a truck spends unloading is 7 to 10 minutes, with 15 minutes common for split loads.

An onsite computer automatically tracks data from the activity at the scales and sends the information to a management information system to notify the authority when the transtors are full.

Once two transtors of a given commodity have reached capacity, the authority calls a trucking firm to transport the materials. A moving floor trailer arrives at the facility, enters a code to enter the area, weighs itself, then begins loading. Once loaded, the tractor trailer weighs out and receives a printed ticket, then delivers the recyclables to the mills contracted to purchase and process that commodity.

Reliant on Contracts

In addition to working with neighboring Carbon and Pike counties, which drop off their source-separated materials at the Consolidation Center, the authority has negotiated long-term (usually five years) contracts with mills establishing minimum floor prices the authority is paid for commodities. If market prices are higher than the negotiated floor price, the mills split the increase between the floor and market prices with the authority. The processors provide transportation and pay for moving the recyclables from the Center to their mills. The contracts stipulate that haulers respond within an hour of receiving a call to empty a transtor.

While it sounds like tough terms, the contracts are “in the best interest for all parties to guarantee the long-term viability of our operation,” DeLong says. “Mills need our recyclables to operate, and we need a regular cash flow to provide service to the county's residents.”

Cash Back

Although the Consolidation Center has only been operating for a little more than one year, the prices the authority receives for recyclables now cover all collection and transfer operations, and leave money to pay back the building and construction loan [See “Low-Interest Loan Funds Facility” on page 52] and future capital expenditures. “Depending on the market, we're looking at $8,000 to $16,000 per month in receipts,” DeLong says. The program collected approximately 4,000 tons in the first year and has seen an increase in recyclables sold by 50 percent. Material sales in 2002 totaled approximately $104,000.

Moreover, the Blakeslee Center has avoided costs. “When we planned our facility in 1999, we recognized a MRF is very expensive in terms of capital and manning the facility,” DeLong says. The minimum costs to operate a MRF that receives 5,000 to 10,000 tons per year were estimated at $10 per ton to sort materials, $25 per ton to bale materials and an additional $15 per ton to move, store and load the materials before they are even marketed, he says.

In contrast, the costs of the automated facility are $4 to $5 per ton for operating costs, and $17 per ton for mortgage costs. Plus, DeLong says, revenues at the county's floor prices are $34.70 per ton but are actually coming in at $45.92 per ton because of higher market prices for commodities.

Additionally, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania pays MCMWMA $7 per ton for recyclables through a performance grant that will last until 2011.

Education and Advertising

The success of the Consolidation Center obviously relies on a continuous inflow of recyclables and trucks. Drivers can be taught how to use the center in 10 minutes, DeLong says. However, teaching new residents how to recycle and to avoid contamination is an ongoing challenge.

To promote the recycling depots, the MCMWMA has traded for approximately $80,000 per year worth of advertising with local TV and radio stations, and with the local newspaper.

“We sold the sides of our [depot] bins in exchange for providing in-kind advertising,” DeLong explains.

Any new transfer station has its share of problems — let alone a fully automated facility. For example, because the facility is automated, the design had to accommodate card access at the entrance, says Bill Gralski, team leader at Harrisburg-based Brinjac Engineering Inc., which designed the facility. Nearby wetlands also created hurdles, forcing traffic to be routed in a U shape instead of a linear pattern. “It was a trick to fit the equipment,” Gralski says.

While dumping trash from a transtor into an empty transfer trailer normally would not cause problems, “when you're unloading 53 cubic yards of newspaper, you displace the same amount of air, which literally creates waves of paper,” DeLong says.

To manage this problem, Vquip created air chutes to deflect the air straight up instead of spreading it over the top of the trailer. “The air goes through a chimney-like chute and the weight does not let the paper blow all over the place,” he says.

Sometimes inclement weather makes operations more difficult, too. “During the Christmas season, we got whacked with two feet of snow,” DeLong says. “We're now looking at covering the facility to avoid problems with freezing.”

Down the Road

The facility's success has led to the need for additional capacity. DeLong says Mondays, Tuesdays and the days following holiday weekends are the busiest because of tourists' and residents' weekend activities. “On a given holiday Monday, we're just swamped. When we put our system in place we were looking at 80,000 people, and now it looks like twice the population we anticipated is using the system.”

Additional volume is handled by increasing the number of trailers used to transport increased tonnage from the depots to the Consolidation Center. And although transtors are picked up daily, the authority is planning to add five more bins, increasing its capacity to handle recyclables to 14 transtors.

Although the facility has only been open a little more than one year, DeLong deems the center a success. “The air created [by dumping] and wind were the only two things that caused consternation. Once the authority built the air chute, it took care of things,” DeLong says. “We always knew there had to be a better way [to handle recyclables].”

Patricia-Anne Tom is Waste Age's managing editor.

This article is based on “The First Fully Automated Transfer Facilities for Recyclables in North America,” which was presented at the Solid Waste Association of North America's WASTECON 2002.


Although Monroe County, Pa., is just 80 miles and approximately two hours west of New York City, it qualified for a low-interest loan designated for rural communities from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington, D.C., to help build its Blakeslee Consolidation Center.

“It's similar to rural electrification, when the government provided monies for rural communities that didn't have electricity,” says Dean DeLong, executive director of the Monroe County Municipal Waste Management Authority, Blakeslee, Pa.

The county's 40-year mortgage of $1.56 million is charged a fixed interest rate of 5 percent.