As a waste facility, what can be done to be a good neighbor within the community you serve?
By Evan Williams

Transfer stations and material recovery facilities (MRFs) serve important functions to the greater community. They serve as a means to more efficiently transport municipal solid waste (MSW) for disposal and recover materials for recycling to minimize what is sent to the landfill. From a high level, they exist as purely positive forces with important functions. Why then, are they relegated to the far corners of industrial parks or adjacent to closed landfills? This issue relates to the complexities of managing the potentially negative impacts these facilities can have on their neighbors and the community as a whole. By better understanding the impacts your facility can have on the larger community you can better address them or use education to build a greater understanding and appreciation for the realities of your business. The impacts can be grouped into several categories: Vectors, Odors and Dust, Wind-Blown Debris, Environmental Concerns, and Traffic.

Any facility that receives solid waste, single stream recyclables or source separated material has an issue with vectors in one way or another. Vectors as a term covers nuisance animals that can carry disease. For solid waste facilities, this mostly deals with mice, rats and birds. There are several operational best practices to help minimize these populations. For the mice and rats, keeping the floor clean is important. In addition, designing a facility with minimal space to create homes can help stop a colony from getting a foothold. As a best-practice, a local pest control company may be engaged to set up bait block stations to keep the population of these low.

Figure 1: Vector (bird’s nest) in building vents.
Photo courtesy of pamstock.

Birds, on the other hand, can pose a difficult challenge. The birds will often roost in the roof rafters, and their waste can become a large issue. There are several strategies that can be effective in dealing with this, depending on your building type and the type of bird you are attempting to discourage. Bird wire—a wire that is strung across tipping aprons and similar areas—discourages the birds from nesting in the areas it is strung. In addition, you can install bird netting on the inside of your building to keep the birds from roosting in your ceiling. Another approach that can be effective is using air noise makers to disturb the birds. You must take proactive action to keep these vectors under control, as their populations not only impact your facility, but also your neighbors who will also pay the price if you do not address this.

Odors and Dust
The issue with odor and dust in transfer stations and MRFs can be greatly minimized through smart facility planning, operations and a few remediative approaches. When you are designing a facility, it is important to site the primary tipping bay doors away from the prevailing winds. In addition, high-speed doors can be installed on all exterior doors. These approaches can minimize the magnitude of odors and fugitive dust that are carried offsite. In addition, there are several negative air systems that can pull in and treat the facility air before releasing it. These systems can help control dust and odor. Another effective solution for dust and odor control is the use of a misting system. These systems use water and can incorporate chemical odor neutralizers to create a very fine mist over the primary work areas. A benefit to the misting systems is that they can be easily retrofitted to existing facilities with minimal disruption and yield impressive results. For MRFs, a dust extraction system with pickup points at the main dust generations points can also prove very effective.

Figure 2: Wind-blown litter on fence.
Photo courtesy of Kathryn Wood.

Wind-Blown Debris
If the streets around a transfer station or MRF are strewn with garbage, it does not present a compelling image for a community asset. Staying on top of wind-blown debris can go a long way toward curbing this issue. The facility should have a full perimeter fence at a minimum, and if that is a chain link fence, you should consider a finer netting or slats to better contain material. There should be a daily walk of the site by staff to pick up loose material. Other approaches to minimize material getting offsite is to tarp out-going transfer trailers in the facility or use auto-tarping trailers. Similar to controls for odor and dust, providing high-speed doors, and orienting the building away from the prevailing doors can minimize the amount of material the wind picks up and carries offsite. If you are seeing material being carried offsite despite your best efforts, you may want to expand your daily perimeter walk to pick up material to include the adjacent public right-of-way.

Environmental Concerns
A solid waste facility carries with it very real environmental concerns. Proper planning and operations can ensure the site operates in an environmentally responsible manner. The primary environmental concern with solid waste facilities is typically related to water run-off mingling with waste material. The resulting liquid (leachate) should be minimized and when created, it must be contained. Good site operations and cleaning practices should keep all tipped materials in the facility. Similarly, good facility design will lay out the tipping and loading pits to direct the resulting liquids to drain points inside the facility plumbing to collection tanks and finally to a municipal sanitary sewer. Several facilities are incorporating stormwater best management practices using bio-swales to pre-treat stormwater prior to allowing it to exit the site. These approaches can remove suspended solids from the stormwater as well as minimize debris from the outfall.

Figure 3: Site trench drain and perimeter fencing.
Photo courtesy of Cambridge Companies.

There are often complaints with the traffic in and around transfer stations and MRFs. The issue typically relates to long queuing lines out the front gate at busy times. Depending on whether your volume is mostly internal or third party will affect how much you can do about this. Your facility will operate best with a fairly steady stream of incoming material. Having a mass of trucks show up around 10am, then another wave around 2pm is not ideal for anyone. The long backup at the scale to the tipping floor has the route trucks idling for an extended time, while the loaders in the tipping building struggle to keep up. One way to help with this would be to fit regular customers with RFID tags so the scaling for them can be shorter. In addition, if you control much of the volume, you can stagger your route start times and route design to have the trucks tipping at more variable times to minimize bunching. By working on streamlining your operations with regard to scaling and tipping, you can minimize the backup on adjacent roads while improving your efficiency.

Good Neighbors
Being a good neighbor can have real and tangible benefits toward remaking the solid waste industries image and perception. It is important to engage the community to tell the story of what your business is and means. Reaching out in networking and public forums and engaging in active discussion can help better educate the public on the benefits of an active and effective solid waste management market. Many people’s negative perceptions are rooted in outdated or inaccurate understanding in how and what the solid waste industry is. By continuing to work hard to design and operate our facilities with an appreciation of the impacts they can have on the neighbors, and the community as a whole, we can help better align the public’s perceptions of our industry with reality. | WA

Evan Williams is a Design Project Manager at Cambridge Companies (Griffith, IN), a design-build firm working with the waste industry for more than 20 years. During this time, more than 100 solid waste design-build projects have been completed including new build, repairs, upgrades and/or modifications at transfer stations, recycling centers/MRFs, hauling companies, landfill facilities, office buildings and more. Cambridge continually monitors the industry to determine any new needs, changes or improvements that will benefit their clients and improve their design-build solutions. Evan can be reached at (219) 972-1155, via e-mail at [email protected] or visit