What is a transfer station and how does it work?

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What is a transfer station and how does it work?

November 12, 2021


An image of waste transfer bins at a landfill.

What is a Waste Transfer Station?

Have you ever wondered what happens to your rubbish after your local waste management company picks it up? Most likely, your rubbish is on its way to a waste transfer station.

In the past ‘tips’ or landfills were considered waste disposal sites only where little or no little recycling was employed. As the years went on and greater emphasis was placed on protecting the environment, and the development of transfer stations came into vogue with greater focus and emphasis on resource recovery to ensure greater efficiency, and subsequently many operators made the decision to close unlicensed and smaller licensed landfills.

Today there is a shift to refer to waste transfer stations as Resource Recovery Centre’s. A transfer station or resource recovery centre is a facility where MSW (municipal solid waste) and Solid Inert waste (Commercial Dry Waste) is unloaded from multiple commercial collection vehicles and briefly held at the site until it is reloaded into larger volume long haul transfer trailers for shipment to landfills or other treatment or disposal facilities. By combining the loads of several individual smaller waste collection trucks into a single shipment, this greatly reduces the operating costs for labour, freight and overall running costs. By reducing the total number of vehicle trips traveling to and from the disposal site, this greatly reduces vehicle emissions of noxious gases such as CO2, CH4, N2O to atmosphere, plus it greatly reduces other things such as road repairs for local governments and vehicle maintenance costs for the operators. So, in short, Transfer Stations or Resource Recovery Centre’s are great for the environment.

Behind the Scenes at a Transfer Station

Let’s explore the process that all disposal vehicles follow at a waste transfer station.

  1. Weighing In – When a truck arrives at a waste transfer station, it firstly goes to the commercial weighbridge to be identified and weighed in. Each individual truck is also identified as either a new vehicle to the site or an existing user, usually by an RFID tag, or lack thereof, which registers the tare and gross weight of the vehicle so a payload can be calculated and subsequently charged to the various operators. In the case of the public using the transfer station to dispose of various waste streams such as garden vegetation, cardboard, old appliances and general household clean up wastes, the resident stops at the weighbridge so the load can be weighed or identified, in the case of some of the smaller sites where there isn’t a weighbridge, the resident will stop at the gatehouse so the load can be identified and the appropriate amount can be charged. In the case of items such as bulk cardboard, steel, aluminium etc, most transfer stations offer free drop off for these materials to the residents and smaller commercial operators alike, thus reducing disposal costs to the user.
  2. Unloading – trucks and smaller vehicles will unload the rubbish usually into a pit, designated hard stand area or into large skips. The material is then loaded by either a dozer, loader or excavator into transfer trailers, or in the case of the larger more modern automated sites, the pits have moving floors at the bottom of the pit that move the waste material along and into large hydraulically operated waste compactors. These compactors feed and compact the material automatically into the larger transfer trailers. This is much more in keeping with OHS compliances and is a safer working environment for all concerned.
  3. Consolidation – In the case of a lot of sites, they now utilise hydraulically operated waste compactors to consolidate the waste material into the transfer trailers. This makes sure that maximum payloads are reached, thus further reducing additional trips for the transfer trailers.
  4. Sorting – If the transfer station has a sorting area, the waste will move through the sorting area or system to separate various recyclable materials. These recyclable materials can then be transferred off site for further processing or remanufacture.
  5. Reloading – The residual waste left over is then loaded into transfer trailers by either a loader or compaction unit and then taken by the larger transfer tailers to landfills, waste-to-energy plants or recycling or repurposing plants.

Waste Transfer Station Equipment

As with most waste management processes, handling waste material at a waste transfer station is not a one-size-fits-all ordeal. To sort more effectively, compact and transport wet, dry and organic waste materials, waste transfer stations use a combination of compactors, transfer trailers, balers, bins and skips, subject to the material type.

Wastech Engineering has helped design numerous waste transfer stations/ resource recovery centres for all kinds of businesses throughout Australia and New Zealand. We work closely with local governments, waste management companies, consulting engineers and architects to design and manufacture a unique transfer station tailored to site specific and processing needs to suit all waste types and to overcome geographical challenges.

While each transfer station design is unique, most of the equipment remains the same, with variations in sizes and models. Here’s a look at some of the machinery you might find at a

waste transfer station:

To view a summary of our waste transfer station design, check out our project page online. If you require help with your waste transfer station in Australia or New Zealand, you can also call us on 1800 465 465 to learn more or speak to one of our transfer station specialists.


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