Transfer Stations

Transfer Station Siting Criteria

All siting criteria must be developed before identifying potential transfer station sites. This approach ensures siting decisions are based on objective criteria. It is important to note that no site may meet all the criteria, in which case, each criterion’s relative weight and importance must be considered.

Exclusionary Siting Criteria

Siting a waste transfer station, or any type of facility, in areas with preclusive siting criteria is often prohibited by federal, state, or local laws or regulations, or requires facilities to incorporate special engineering design and construction techniques. Even when siting in excluded zones is allowed, the added engineering designs or strong public opposition can significantly increase construction costs. In general, it is best to avoid siting in these areas. Exclusionary criteria might include areas such as:

  • Wetlands and floodplains

  • Endangered and protected flora and fauna habitats

  • Protected sites of historical, archeological or cultural significance

  • Prime agricultural land

  • Parks and preserves

Some examples of federal laws defining these areas include the Endangered Species Act, the Migratory Bird Conservation Act, the Coastal Zone Management Act, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act, and the National Historic Preservation Act.

Technical Siting Criteria

The second category of criteria to develop includes technical parameters that help define the best potential facility sites. These criteria provide guidance on specific engineering, operation, and transportation conditions that should be considered to ensure that potential sites are feasible from technical, environmental and economic perspectives.

Central Location to Collection Routes

To maximize waste collection efficiency, transfer stations should be located centrally to waste collection routes. As a rule of thumb in urban and suburban areas, transfer stations should be no more than 10 miles away from the end of all collection routes. Beyond that distance, collection routes might need to be altered to enable refuse to be collected and deposited at the transfer station within one operating shift.

Access to Major Transportation Routes

The transfer station should have direct and convenient access to truck routes, major arterials, and highways (or rail or barge access, if appropriate). For large metropolitan areas, direct access to rail lines or barges will significantly reduce the number of large transfer trailers leaving the station and traveling area roads. It is preferable to avoid routing traffic through residential areas because traffic generated by transfer stations contributes to congestion; increased risk to pedestrians; increased air emissions, noise, and wear on roads; and might contribute to litter problems.

Site Size Requirements

The area required for specific transfer stations varies significantly, depending on the volume of waste to be transferred, rates at which waste will be delivered, the functions to be carried out at the site, and the types of customers the facility is intended to serve. Locating a site of sufficient size is critical to operating efficiencies and minimizing impacts on the surrounding community. Engineering input can establish preliminary size criteria based on a conceptual design.

Sufficient Space for Onsite Roadways, Queuing and Parking

Transfer stations typically have onsite roadways to move vehicles around various parts of the transfer site. Waste collection trucks can be up to 40 feet long. Transfer trailers that move waste to a disposal facility are typically 50 to 70 feet long. These vehicles need wide roadways with gradual slopes and curves to maneuver efficiently and safely. Also, the site will need space for parking transfer vehicles and to allow incoming and outgoing traffic to form lines without backing up onto public roads.

Truck and Traffic Compatibility

Transfer stations often receive surges of traffic when collection vehicles have finished their routes. Transfer station traffic varies locally, but tends to peak twice a day. The first peak is often near the middle of the day or shift, and the second at the end of the day or shift. Therefore, the best sites for transfer stations are located away from areas that have midday traffic peaks and/or school bus and pedestrian traffic.

Ability for Expansion

When selecting a site, consider the potential for subsequent increase in the daily tonnage of waste the facility will be required to manage or added processing capabilities for recycling and diversion. It is frequently less expensive to expand an existing transfer station than to develop a new site due to the ability to use existing operations staff, utility connections, traffic control systems, office space and buildings.

Space for Recycling, Composting and Public Education

A transfer station could be sited in areas also conducive to recycling or composting activities. Many transfer stations are designed to enable residents and businesses to drop off recyclables and yard waste in addition to trash. Some transfer stations incorporate education centers or interpretive trails focusing on waste prevention. These types of facilities offer increased utility to the community.

Buffer Space

To mitigate impact on the surrounding community, a transfer station should be located in an area that provides separation from sensitive adjoining land uses such as residences. Buffers can be natural or constructed and can take many forms, including open spaces, fences, sound walls, trees, berms and landscaping.

Gently Sloping Topography

Transfer stations often are multilevel buildings that need to have vehicle access at several levels. Completely flat sites need ramps or bridges constructed to allow vehicle access to upper levels (or areas excavated to allow access to lower levels). Sites with moderately sloping terrain can use topography to their advantage, allowing access to the upper levels from the higher parts of the natural terrain and access to lower levels from the lower parts. Sites with steep slopes might require extra costs associated with earthmoving and retaining walls.

Access to Utilities

Transfer stations generally require electricity to operate equipment, such as balers and compactors, lighting, water for facility cleaning, restrooms and drinking, and sanitary sewer systems for wastewater disposal. Some smaller transfer stations use wells for water supply, and some, especially in more rural settings, use septic systems or truck their wastewater for offsite treatment.

Zoning Designations and Requirements

Zoning ordinances frequently classify transfer stations as industrial uses, which limits their siting to areas zoned for industry usually in conjunction with a special use permit.

Exclusive use of predetermined land use criteria, however, might result in locating transfer stations in areas already overburdened with industries or clustering of these types of facilities in areas adjacent to poor and minority communities. If local zoning ordinances are so restrictive that they disallow facility siting outside pre-established industrial zones, substantial engineering and architectural design must be incorporated into the facility to minimize impacts on the surrounding community.

Addressing Cluster Zoning

Siting waste transfer stations exclusively in areas zoned for industrial use can lead to a condition known as “cluster zoning.” Especially restrictive zoning frequently forces transfer stations into a few areas. In general, siting transfer stations in industrial zones eliminates permitting agencies’ discretion to deny such use because technically, the transfer station is permitted “as a matter of right.” These types of zoning actions also prevent an impacted community from influencing the zoning decision. Such intensive clustering of industrial facilities may have negative impacts on neighboring residents, such as increased traffic, noise, odors, and litter. Communities need to address clustering and zoning issues at the local level through comprehensive planning that considers the aggregate effects of clustering certain activities and the equity in sharing community burdens. To avoid clustering when siting a new waste transfer station, establish a community stakeholder or advisory panel to participate in the siting process. This advisory panel should consist of representatives from all potentially affected communities, state, local and/or tribal regulatory agencies, public and private waste trade groups, local community development organizations, and any other concerned community, environmental or environmental justice organizations. To prevent disproportionate facility siting:

  • Zoning must not be presumed to prevent significant impacts on poor and minority communities

  • The potential for clustering should be examined

  • Other close or adjacent land uses should be examined to determine compatibility

  • Other close or adjacent land uses should be examined to analyze cumulative impacts

Communities with a waste transfer station clustering problem might consider requiring a minimum distance between facilities as one possible solution. Designating a minimum distance between waste transfer stations, or other industrial facilities, will limit clustering by forcing the siting of new facilities away from existing operations. The end effect can be a more equitable dispersion of facilities and their negative impacts. A community will need to determine what minimum distance isreasonable.