Solutions Library

Peaks Island Transfer Station

Managing Solid Waste

While mainland residents can adopt an 'out of sight, out of mind' approach to their trash, if you live on an island, you know that solid waste removal is neither simple nor invisible. Nor cheap. In the age of plastics, older island methods like burning, backyard dumping, and ocean sinking aren't legal or desirable. Islands present particular challenges when managing solid waste. Finite space, thin topsoil, and the high potential for groundwater contamination preclude the traditional landfill. Federal clean air acts and the risk of fire prevent large-scale burning. Remote locations and erratic ferry schedules mean that transport off the island can be infrequent and expensive. Whether contracting with a nearby city, using private barge, or relying upon volunteers, each island must consider its own particular set of circumstances when developing a sustainable waste management program.

Practices Self-Awareness

Team—Peaks Island Transfer Station

Knowing what people need when they drop off trash was a key insight into designing a transfer station and system for disposal that worked for everyone.

Read on to learn more about some of the challenges the community faced and how the Peaks Island Transfer Station helped address them.

As part of the city of Portland, Peaks Island provides weekly curbside trash pick-up and built a transfer station in 2001 to compact and transport waste from the 1,000 homes on the island. Its $597,050 (2017 fiscal year) operational budget, which covers personnel, barge transportation, electricity and water, among other expenses, is paid for by the broader city tax base. In exchange, whatever money is generated by the transfer station (most significantly from scrap metal–$346 for one 30-yd container in June 2016; $2100 a few years ago during peak demand) gets added into the city’s general fund. To assist governance, each Casco Bay island has an island representative who meets with other island representatives and a city-appointed island liaison Wednesdays to discuss island needs.


When it comes to disposing of waste, Peaks Island residents have two options: they can either set it by the curb for collection each Monday morning by one of two trucks—one trash and one recycling—or they can deliver it themselves to the Transfer Station for disposal in one of two 42-yd containers. Household trash must be bagged in official City of Portland trash bags that residents can purchase at the grocery store. Big bags cost around $2.35 for a bundle of 10; a bundle of small bags, $1.50. Residents also receive one punch card, good for the free disposal of 10 bulky items or 10yds of demolition per year. More than that, and they have to pay $36/yd.

After Monday’s curbside collection, the loaded truck dumps waste into the compactor on Tuesday. Trash gets compacted three times: it gets pre-crushed in the truck, then compacted twice in the compactor’s 50-yd hopper. This triple compaction helps decrease the frequency of transport off the island. Generally, a 42-yd container leaves Peaks every Thursday on a private barge operated by Lionel Plante Associates. Trash goes to Portland’s city transfer station and recyclables go to Ecomaine.

The Transfer Station is open and staffed by one full-time attendant, from 7am-3pm, four days a week. It also employs 4 maintenance workers. If residents would like to deposit trash after hours, they can access station dumpsters via a footpath around one of the four gates.


  • Work with resident needs. People are creatures of habit and ease, so making waste disposal accessible and hassle-free is essential to increasing participation. Establish convenient systems that make it easy for residents to dispose of household hazardous waste, bulky items, or demolition debris so that they don’t mix them into trash or leave them leave them on the ground.
  • Education is important. If you want people to participate effectively, you need to teach them how the system works.


What’s the biggest challenge you face as waste manager for the Casco Bay Islands?

Anytime you have to transport across water, it makes it more expensive. We just built a new transfer station on Great Diamond Island, with a compactor that can compact trash as well as recycling. The project budget was $732,916, which did not include the compactor unit or transportation costs. Just to get materials to the island cost $17,500.

What’s the budget breakdown for the Peaks Island Transfer Station?

Peaks’ fiscal year 2017 budget is $597,050. That includes $418,655 for payroll, which also covers overtime and temporary help, and expenses for electricity and water. It also includes $80,300 for transportation, our largest operating expense. A barge run to Portland costs $300 round trip, and we do that once or twice a week in summer.

Building the Peaks transfer station was expensive. We had to clear the land and dynamite. Our staff worked with the contractor to build the concrete retaining walls behind the dumpsters, so that saved some money.

The Peaks Island waste management budget is significantly higher than that of other islands. It’s a bigger island, of course, but how is it sustainable?

Transport off the island is the biggest part of our budget, and that’s the reality for every island. The budget is feasible for Peaks because, as part of the city of Portland, it has a broader tax base. Peaks Island pays $4.5 million in property taxes to the city. High property taxes means it can demand services. Residents carry trash on, but the city has to carry it off.

With curbside pick-up, why would residents drop off trash themselves?

The trucks usually make about 600 stops, which means about 400 people bring their trash to the transfer station. People eat a lot of seafood, and they want to get rid of it when they’re done with it so they don’t have to deal with the odor. Even renters bring their trash in; they pick up on it real quick.

People used to just leave stuff at the gate. They’d leave bulky items—a grill, couch, fridge—or sometimes bags of trash. We have 4 gates at the transfer station and $4,000 worth of signage telling people how and where to dispose of their trash, and they’d still leave it in front of the gate if the station was closed. They hauled it down and they didn’t want to haul it back. Basically, the attitude would be “It’s not in my hand anymore, so I don’t have to deal with it.”

It’s kind of under the radar, but residents now have 24-hour access for purple bag trash and recyclables. There are footpaths on each side of the gate and two 40-yd dumpsters right inside, as well as a silver bullet (a 30-yd dumpster with a roof for cardboard collection), and recyclables bins. It’s an honor system, but 99.9% of the bags left are purple.

For every bag someone brings in off-hours, that’s one less bag we have to pick up curbside. Resident delivery is good for the program—saves on labor and wear on the equipment. The easier we can make it for people, the better.

How do seasons affect Peaks’ waste management?

If it’s really nice weather, we get hammered with trash. In summer, we haul a 42-yd dumpster container off twice a week. We’re a rental community; in winter, we’re down to 400 homes. Sometimes we can go 3 weeks.

How do you deal with hazardous waste?

We contract with Clean Harbors, a hazardous waste clean-up company, to come out for collection once a year. They send out two trucks at the transfer station, and residents can then bring their household hazardous waste down to the trucks free of charge. The trucks then load the waste into a 30-yd dumpster waiting on a barge that will then transport it off island. It costs the Clean Harbors fee, plus about $5,000 for personnel and barging.

What are the advantages of single stream recycling, in which recyclables do not need to be sorted?

Our recycling gets processed at Ecomaine, so when they went single-stream, we did, too. It’s all advantage for us: stop and dump, and you’re done. Curbside used to have to sort recyclables at each stop. It was time-consuming and not cost-effective. Now, all the recyclables just get crushed up in the truck and we ship it all off to ecomaine. They separate everything out with a machine. It saves a lot of money.


  • Mechanical breakdowns. Machines break down, and it can be hours before a part can reach the island. If a compactor breaks down, it doesn’t take long for the trash to start backing up. Especially on an island as big as Peaks. Peaks’ uses the trash truck as backup. If the compactor breaks down, the full trash truck can be loaded onto the barge in lieu of a compactor-filled container.
  • Logistics of tides and scheduling. “Water is our biggest hindrance,” says Marty. At some islands, the barge can’t dock at low tide. The work day fluctuates because you can’t always remove waste during the standard 8-hour day. When tides are early, staff might start at 5am. Other times they work late. That means overtime pay and increased cost. Some islands have built landing ramps that are not tide dependent, but island geography dictates feasibility and cost. The ramp on Great Diamond, for example, cost $50,000.


  • Peaks Island transports 21-42 tons of waste and 8 tons of recyclables off the island each week in the summer. “People are great with trash and recycling,” says Marty. Probably 80-90% of residents participate in recycling.


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