As more and more landfills have closed across the country, transfer stations have grown in number, profile and importance in the solid waste industry. Like those in other segments of the solid waste industry, transfer station managers are routinely confronted with a whole host of issues, from facility efficiency to employee safety.
To find out their views on their industry, Waste Age hosted a cyberspace roundtable with four transfer station managers from around the country. In addition to the issues mentioned above, the participants discussed dust and odor control, tipping floor maintenance, and the changing natures of competition and customer bases.
The participants included:
Jeff Altman, operation manager of the Olympic View Transfer Station in Port Orchard, Wash.;
Wayne Gill, site manager of the AAA Transfer Station in Nashville, Tenn.;
Jeff Harbin, transfer station manager for the Southeastern Public Service Authority in Chesapeake, Va.; and Ellen Smyth, director of environmental services for El Paso, Texas.
Waste Age (WA): What issues are of greatest concern to transfer station managers?
Altman: Safety, customer service and efficient operations. Establishing and maintaining a safely operated facility for customers and employees is our primary goal. Using efficient work activities (personnel and resources) to handle changing operational conditions and providing outstanding customer service are also our goals.
Gill: Safety, first and foremost. Maximizing outbound tonnage. Working to maintain contracted inbound volumes.
Harbin: Staffing requirements to insure a safe work environment and to keep up with additional demands put on the stations, equipment designed for a particular application within the station, [and] encroachment of residential communities.
Smyth: Traffic flow/control, billing information, safety and equipment maintenance.
WA: What have you done in recent years or what are you planning to do to make your facility more efficient?
Altman: Olympic View Transfer Station (OVTS) was newly constructed in 2002, so our facility design/operational features are current and very up-to-date. However, we have done some minor changes to the facility and equipment to allow for greater efficiency. One recent building enhancement: Bulky materials unacceptable for compacting are top-loaded via a floor hopper into open-top intermodal containers. We recently increased the ceiling height over this hopper area to better accommodate our rubber-tracked excavator we use for loading. The original overhead clearance didn't allow ample room for maneuvering the excavator boom during loading.
Gill: [We] expanded the facility [and are] considering [the] issue of contracting out the loading.
Harbin: Staggered working hours to reduce overtime, increased trailer densities through training and better equipment purchases, [and] initiated 24-hour operations at some facilities.
Smyth: El Paso has a 45-year-old transfer station. I propose to tear it down and build a new one.
WA: How are regulations affecting your business?
Altman: We constantly keep up-to-date with any new regulations that affect operations. As such, we implement any necessary changes to our operational activities to comply with new regulatory requirements.
Gill: Nothing detrimental.
Harbin: Some regulations are causing cost increases. We are now required to capture all runoff from trailers, empty or full, and transport the runoff to be treated.
Smyth: No different from landfills — actually less paperwork.
WA: Have you taken any steps in recent years to improve dust and odor control in your facility? Have you had any problems with the surrounding community because of odor complaints?
Altman: We haven't had any facility dust or odor problems. However, this spring we did add an overhead water mister system to help control inadequately wetted loads, typically from commercial construction and demolition loads. We do require that customers with dusty loads wet them down, but inevitably, we still have to use our sprinklers on insufficiently wetted loads.
Being located in the Pacific Northwest, most times there is more than adequate precipitation, which helps wet down loads, but during the summer we can also see dry spells. We've never had an odor complaint. Our facility is located in an industrial park complex. We've had no odor issues with any of the other tenants around us.
Gill: We have an odor control misting system operating and have not had any complaints from neighbors.
Harbin: Odor complaints increase as residential neighborhoods are developed in close proximity to transfer stations. We have installed misting systems that mask odors and microbe systems that eat bacteria.
Smyth: No. An enclosed facility usually eliminates complaints. Water misters are used for dust control.
WA: Some in the waste management field have told us that an aging workforce is an issue in the transfer station industry. Is it a concern at your facility, and, if so, how are you addressing it?
Altman: This isn't an issue at our facility.
Gill: No issues.
Harbin: This has not been a problem. While we do have personnel retiring, we have enough of a variation in employees that we haven't lost the experience through retirements. On the other hand, attracting new personnel is extremely challenging and requires constant review.
Smyth: No. We have about 25 percent turnover in the department each year. We move them around from landfill, recycling, transfer, etc., to cross-train.
WA: How have you improved the safety, both from a customer and employee standpoint, in your facility over the years?
Altman: In the last few years our company's safety programs for all our business lines — hauling, transfer, landfill, and recycling operations — have been evaluated, refined and updated. To address safety at our post-collection transfer operations, we have developed and implemented site-specific tipping floor safety plans to address all aspects of customer and employee site safety.
Gill: Everyone must be in high visibility vest or uniforms, hard hats, and [we] allow only the driver out of a truck on the tipping floor.
Harbin: We have improved safety by paying attention to what is occurring in the waste industry as a whole through publications, the Solid Waste Association of North America, networking, etc. Identifying what works and what doesn't at our transfer stations and making the appropriate changes helps protect our customers. At some facilities, we have altered the time citizens can use the station and have banned citizens entirely when it becomes too dangerous for them to mingle with private/municipal vehicles.
Smyth: Monthly safety meetings and annual customer service training.
WA: Do you anticipate having to replace your tipping floor in coming years?
Altman: Floor replacement is not anticipated for several years since our facility is very new. We currently do a biannual floor survey of the tipping floor to determine and track floor wear.
Gill: We have recently replaced our floor and don't anticipate any work on it in the near future. We are able to restrict our floor when making repairs so we have no down time.
Harbin: We currently don't anticipate replacing an entire floor. We do however plan on making repairs to tipping floors. The repairs could include overlays, section replacement, etc. These repairs would be scheduled in such a way as to minimize intrusion on our customers by doing part of the floor and remaining open or doing the repairs while closed (weekends, nights).
WA: What advice would you give to someone who has just become a transfer station manager?
Altman: Empower your employees to be the best. Promote team building and open communication. Encourage peer to peer and team discussions about safety, operational activities and other conditions that affect operations.
Gill: Focus on safety, maintain your equipment and keep your operators focused on their job.
Harbin: Hire experienced people.
Smyth: Work with elected officials to obtain the budget for equipment replacement before you need it. By the time you need it, it's usually too late for funding.
WA: How do you see the layout and equipment used in transfer stations changing in the future?
Altman: I would expect more automated compaction equipment would be utilized to optimize payload capacity instead of “traditional” top-loading operations. Transfer facilities will be better designed for safety such as having defined tipping areas, separation between self-haulers (hand-unloaders) and commercial automated customers.
Gill: Larger footprints and bigger equipment.
Harbin: I see the equipment becoming specialized for working in a solid waste environment. I see new transfer stations being built to support growth.
Smyth: Not [much] — the tried and true methods seem to work well for solid waste.Too much technology doesn't work in the middle of dust and trash. Electronic ignitions are a real problem on dozers, for example.
WA: How has the nature of competition changed for you in recent years, and how do you anticipate it changing in the future?
Altman: The major waste companies have consolidated landfill sites, closing smaller landfill operations and diverting waste streams to more efficient, larger regional mega-fills. This has resulted in additional transfer sites feeding these regional mega-fills. As a result, transfer operations coupled with intermodal rail operations are becoming more prevalent and cost-effective, allowing for shipping over great distances between the transfer and disposal sites locations.
Gill: [There will be] more emphasis geared toward contracted volumes.
Harbin: Our competition centers around securing as much waste as possible to be used in our waste-to-energy plant. The private haulers want the same waste to go to their respective landfill. I would expect the future to be more of the same.
Smyth: Tipping fees draw the business — the lower the better.
WA: How has your customer base changed in recent years, and how do you anticipate it changing in the future?
Altman: We opened in conjunction with closure of the landfill we replaced, so we immediately had a pre-existing customer base in need of a place to dump. Over the last few years, we've seen somewhat moderate growth of commercial and municipal gate volumes. Self-hauler customer numbers and volume have risen over the last fee years, too. This is probably attributable to more people choosing to use our facility instead of other options — curbside pickup, where available, and drop-box facilities — due to cost and convenience. We expect these trends to continue in the future.
Gill: [We've seen] municipal contracts and gate rates worthy of competing for small local volumes. [We] look for [the customer base] to continue to grow thru good service and continued efforts to secure new volumes.
Harbin: The major change with our customer base has been more customers as the population has increased. As a regional waste authority, we have numerous customers with varied needs. I would not expect that to change.
Smyth: None. Our city has the residential business, and the private company has the commercial business. I don't see that changing much in the future.
Olympic View Transfer Station Facility Stats
Service area — Kitsap County, Wash. Olympic View Transfer Station also receives some waste from bordering counties and other locations.
Customers served — 250,000 households
Owner — Public/private partnership between Kitsap County and Waste Management Inc.
Year opened — 2002
Capacity/throughput — 750 to 900 tons/day
Number of employees — 10
Equipment — Two John Deere 644H Wheeled Loaders , one Cat 966 Wheeled Loader , one Cat 312 Excavator, two Taylor 950 Top-Picks, one Ottawa Tractor Yard Goat and one SSI 4500 Compactor
AAA Transfer Station Facility Stats
Service area — Greater Metropolitan Nashville Area
Customers served — Not available
Owner — Allied Waste Services
Year opened — 2000
Capacity/throughput — Unlimited
Number of employees — 13
Equipment — Two 330 Cat Excavators, two 972G Cat Wheel Loaders, one 120 Volvo and one 926 Cat
Southeastern Public Service Authority Stats
Service area — 9 transfer stations covering 2,000 miles of service area
Customers served — Approximately 1.25 million
Owner — Southeastern Public Service Authority
Year opened — 1985
Capacity/throughput — 1.2 million tons annually
Number of employees — 49
Equipment — Nine CAT rubber tire front-end loaders, five CAT rubber tire excavators and four Bobcat skid steer loaders with attachments. Various street sweepers, mini vacuums, mowers, etc.
El Paso Transfer Station Facility Stats
Service area — City limits
Customers served — 150,000 households, 500,000 persons
Owner — City of El Paso
Year opened — 1960
Capacity/throughput — 52 trucks per day (Currently shut down)
Number of employees — 10
Equipment — 8 transfer trailers, 8 cabs