Solutions Library

Vinalhaven 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.

In 1996, Vinalhaven decided to close its landfill and convert its waste management system to an on-island transfer station that would gather, compact, sort, and export solid waste from the 1,300 year-round residents, a population that, at a minimum, triples during July and August.



Residents can dispose of household waste and recyclables at the Transfer Station. Waste is sorted and run through a trash compactor, purchased in 2003, then stored in several construction dumpsters that are hauled off the island by a Waste Management (WM) truck that comes out on the ferry, which also delivers empty containers at the time of pick up. Household waste must be bagged; each bag must be marked with official town waste stickers ($1.50 each). Residents may either purchase stickers beforehand or note the number of bags at time of disposal to a station attendant, who keeps a tally in a receipt book.

The station rotates household trash through three approximately 40 square yard, enclosed containers; disposal holes are covered with a tarp. There’s also an open top container for demolition waste. When the dumpster containers fill, Vinalhaven Transfer Station calls WM and schedules ferry transport. Usually WM can come a couple days after the call. It costs $742 per trip, plus tippage at $58/ton, and the boat ticket at $173.5 per round trip. Household trash and demolition are shipped weekly to Crossroads Landfill in Norwichwall, near Skowhegan (sometimes twice a week in summer).

Residents sort their recycling (glass, tin, paperboard, plastics #1-8) into gray lobster bait containers (purchased second-hand from a local lobsterman), which are then loaded onto a 53-foot-long tractor trailer. Newspaper is stacked on pallets and loaded with cardboard onto the tractor trailer as well. In summer, Bunker’s Trucking (a local contractor) hauls the recycling tractor trailer off-island every Friday on the second ferry (approximately once every two weeks in winter). Recycling is shipped to Rockport, Maine’s transfer station.

Two employees staff the station 10 hours a day, four days a week, year-round, and they hire one extra employee in the summer to help handle the summer increase.



  • Trash stickers. A sticker system helps streamline operations because people pre-pay for waste disposal. If residents don’t have stickers, then transfer station attendants have to count bags and keep track of expenses.
  • Trash compactor. It compresses waste to increase dumpster container space and decrease the number of exports.



What was initial cost to build the Transfer Station and how did Vinalhaven come up with these funds?

AD: From looking at the annual town reports, it seems a recycling effort was launched in 1993, or so. As best as I can see, the initial cost to get that going was $1,900 for a compactor and two trailers. There had been two landfills here and the most recent closing was done around 1997. I have a report that indicates the capping of that landfill in 1997/1998 cost $125,000.

What challenges has Vinalhaven experienced in setting up and running its transfer station?

AD: Cost and logistics are a challenge. The operation costs us about $300,000 per year and we are only generating 1/3 of that from user fees.

LT: If people don’t have stickers, we have to count bags and tell them the balance. We keep a receipt book. It’s a lot of writing down for us here; it’d be a lot better if we didn’t have to deal with money.

What are the yearly operational costs for the Vinalhaven Transfer Station and how is it funded?

AD: The 5-year average cost is $282,000 per year. This years budgeted amount is $349,000; $105,000 is income generated from user fees and the remaining is supported through taxes. The waste generated at the transfer station is hauled off by three different people/businesses.

MSW and Demolition materials are hauled away by Waste Management: $742 per trip, plus tippage at $58/ton, and the boat ticket at $173.5 per round trip.
Recycling is hauled off by Bunker’s Trucking (local contractor): $225 per trip plus $220 for a round trip boat ticket. Scrap metal is hauled away by Ron Nadeau (local contractor): $150 per trip plus the boat ticket at $137.5 per round trip.

What improvements have you seen since the Transfer Station opened in 1996?

LT: The trash compactor [purchased in 2003] really helped. Everything is all contained and neater. Before, there used to be an open top [to the dumpster container] and we had to compact the trash with a back hoe and cover it with a tarp. The wind would catch the trash and blow it around. As a rule it’s worked pretty good. Every now and then we blow a hydraulic bulb or something.

Any advice or helpful resources for other islands looking to set up a transfer station of their own?

AD: A question that anyone looking to set up a transfer station needs to ask and consider is will it be funded entirely by user fees, partially by user fees/partly taxes, or entirely taxes?

I would strongly encourage anyone starting new transfer station to consider single-stream recycling, a compost system, and the usual MSW and Demo piles. A discussion about accepting metal should be had. The challenge for islands is that all waste has to leave one way or another. You can offer the services through municipal operations or hope that people dispose of these items properly.

The more recycling/reusing and waste reduction education a community can do, the cheaper it will be to export waste.



  • Cost and logistics of waste transport.
  • Variety and abundance of waste. Vinalhaven employs 3 different contractors to haul different types of waste off-island. In summer, its population swells to over three times its year-round population.



  • Luther estimates that the Vinalhaven Transfer Station ships about 12-14 tons of trash a week normally, more in summer. On average, Vinalhaven produces 6-8 bait containers of recyclables a week.
  • “Most people are on board,” says Luther. “It’s a lot neater now than it used to be. We don’t have the trash heap like we used to and no rats. I’ve been working here for 16 years and haven’t seen a rat yet.”



Why a Maine island community is switching to single-sort recycling —Bangor Daily News; October 18, 2018—Article on Vinalhaven upgrading and streamlining its recycling process by offering single-sort recycling

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