Layout and Design

Depot layout includes considerations such as materials collected, traffic flow, signage, and storage.

Materials Collected

Planning starts with deciding what materials will be received and which ones will be diverted.

Identifying volume and quality of materials available
  • The first step in designing a depot is understanding the amount and type of materials in the residential waste stream, that will be brought to the depot.

The primary tools available to help identify what is in the residential waste stream are waste composition studies and the CIF Depot Costing Model.

Waste Composition Studies provide the most insightful information about waste generation/diversion habits. The CIF has developed resources for conducting both curbside and depot waste composition studies. Alternatively, you can use existing waste study information from communities comparable in size and location to estimate waste generation rates and diversion opportunities. CIF has conducted dozens of residential waste studies including small, rural communities. These studies are available for use in estimating waste generation rates for your community. This won’t be exact, but it should provide a useful starting point.

The CIF Depot Costing Model offers the option for the user to estimate the amount and type of materials in the waste stream based on the community’s population. It is important to note, the depot may also accept materials from local business, municipal offices and facilities and the seasonal population. Efforts should be taken to quantify and address these materials during the design phase.

For seasonal population generation rates assume a 4:1 ratio, that is, 4 seasonal residents equals 1 permanent resident.

Selecting materials to be targeted for diversion
  • The size, design and location of your depot will impact if it is feasible to divert a targeted material and the costs necessary to manage it.

To determine the diversion feasibility of a targeted material, ask the following questions:

  • How much is available and what is the quality?
  • What level of community participation in the recycling program can be realistically expected?
  • Are there local processing capabilities and are the long term markets viable?
  • What are the expected costs to collect, store, transport, process and market?
  • Are any local alternatives for reuse or diversion available?
  • What are the storage, handling and transportation requirements and can they be managed by existing resources and infrastructure?
  • Are there safety, litter or other concerns that can be effectively managed?
  • What is the willingness of the public and Council to support the initiative?

Also, work with the MRF to determine if additional revenues or cost savings can be gained by separating out certain materials, such as cardboard, transport packaging, or glass bottles.

The CIF Small Municipal Depot Guidebook  provides an example of the decision making process that might take place in assessing whether to divert film at a depot (see page 11).

Some municipalities are beginning to target non-obligated materials for diversion at their depots, for example:

  • Bulky Rigid Plastics (e.g. plastic table and chairs, kids’ pools, large toys) – Simcoe County and Horton Township
  • Window Panes – Simcoe County
  • Mattresses – Simcoe County ($15 fee per mattress)
  • Asphalt and drywall – Ottawa Valley Waste Recovery Centre
  • Clean wood – Ottawa Valley Waste Recovery Centre
  • Organics – Township of Killaloe, Hagarty and Richards and Township of Madawaska Valley
Diversion options beyond the Blue Box
  • Other depot diversion options can be considered such as a reuse building, waste electronic sheds/containers, textile recycling bins, used paint exchange, used oil collection or partnerships with non-profit services.

Depots have the ability to provide services not feasible elsewhere (e.g. curbside mattress collection). As the Province obligates industry to assume greater producer responsibilities, depots may play a more important role in servicing new EPR programs.

Currently, depots provide for a number of EPR programs including waste electronics, municipal hazardous and special waste (MHSW), tires, paints and batteries. Depots can provide other diversion opportunities like reuse, textiles, used oil, ceramics, bikes and opportunities to partner with organizations that can use the collected materials.

Reuse Centres

Depots, especially those affiliated with a landfill or transfer point for garbage are increasingly providing reuse centres. These can be very basic or sophisticated but all of them enable people to donate gently used goods that others can remove for reuse. Municipalities must control what can be donated to protect against potential liability. The table below identifies items typically accepted and not accepted.

Items typically accepted Items typically not accepted
  • Books
  • Kitchen ware
  • Outdoor patio furniture
  • Pots/pans
  • Ceramics
  • Games, puzzles
  • Wood furniture
  • Sports equipment
  • Clothing
  • Baby items (cribs, car seats, high chairs, strollers, safety gates)
  • Electrical appliances
  • Upholstered furniture
  • Mattresses and box springs
  • Carpets
  • Some personal protective sports equipment
  • Firearms, explosives, archery equipment, etc.

Textile Recycling

Textile waste can be handled at depots by introducing dedicated recycling bins and partnering with non-profit organizations to remove and process the material. Municipalities must educate residents about what can be accepted in a textile recycling program. Most residents believe that only gently used clothing and shoes can be accepted, however, some charities also accept linens, towels, torn clothing, leather belts and boots, purses, blankets, rags, etc.

Used Oil Collection

Municipalities must take care in selecting the type of collection container used. It is recommended that a ULC approved (ULC-S-652 or ULC-ORD-C142.21) oil storage tank be installed. The tank is double walled and has a specifically designed venting system to allow for rapid movement of air into the tank to prevent collapse while being emptied or bursting from heat expansion. These units cost $2,500 for a small tank (1,100 L) to about $4,000 for a large tank (2,200 L).


Some municipalities partner with non-profit organizations (i.e. Salvation Army, Goodwill, Vincent St. Paul and Habitat for Humanity) who benefit from access to diverted reusable materials. These organizations often erect enclosed structures or operate out of a modified transport trailer.

Layout and Traffic Flow

Spending the time and money up front to thoroughly plan the layout will pay off by ensuring that the depot configuration operates efficiently and safely for decades.

Planning for growth
  • In addition to routine volume changes due to population growth, depot design and configuration must address potential changes in recycling end markets or new producer responsibility programs.

Depot design and operating configuration largely depends on:

  • Property size
  • Existing and planned site uses
  • Amount and type of material to be managed and future EPR program impacts
  • Numbers and types of vehicle traffic
  • Changes in community growth/user characteristics/needs over time

Prior to expanding or establishing a depot it is important to address future population growth (permanent and seasonal) and the expected impact on increased traffic flow and material tonnages. Plans also need to consider how the layout and configuration are impacted by new, viable diversion markets and/or new producer responsibility programs. Consider potential scenarios, such as new programs for carpets, mattresses or furniture. Where could the separate collection and storage take place in the depot? How would traffic flow be handled safely?

Size and potential growth expectations may impact the decision to build a temporary or permanent depot. Smaller, less frequently used depots may benefit by having a temporary arrangement consisting of front end bins that can easily be moved around and repurposed when required providing flexibility at minimal cost. Larger depots experiencing high vehicle traffic will benefit from a more permanent set up featuring scale houses and sawtooth structures. These structures require higher upfront capital costs to construct but offer an effective and safe way to manage higher vehicle flows.

Municipalities often start with a simple set up (e.g. front end bins) and gradually transition to a more permanent set up (e.g. concrete structures, compactors).

Promoting the waste hierarchy
  • Encourage users to reuse and recycle waste before disposal. Traffic should flow past reuse and recycling options before heading to the disposal bins or tipping face.

The waste hierarchy sets waste prevention and minimization as the highest priority followed by reuse and recycling, then disposal as the lowest priority. Depot layout should use the waste hierarchy as a guide to plan traffic flow by presenting users with divert/reuse options before a final disposal option. As users frequent the depot and become more familiar with the layout, they will be encouraged to segregate materials at home for recycling and reuse in order to shorten their time on site. Differential tipping fees can further encourage hierarchy principles when disposable materials are accepted for a higher fee compared to recyclable and reusable materials.

Traffic flow and safety
  • A well thought out traffic flow is critical to the efficiency and user safety of the site.

Traffic and user convenience are key to effective and efficient depot operations. A well designed traffic flow configuration should reduce user time, traffic congestion and safety concerns. Some better practices include placing a scale house or kiosk at the entrance, establishing a circular, one-way traffic flow, and keeping smaller vehicle traffic separated from larger vehicles and equipment.

Scale houses and kiosks

Scale houses, kiosks, signage and staff play an important role in operations by helping to control traffic flow, ensure security and safety for users and direct users on proper usage of the services. Depending on the size and popularity of the depot, a municipality may choose to install a scale house or a kiosk at the entrance of the depot.

A small vehicle scale will allow the municipality to keep records of the amount of material received and the amount diverted versus disposed. Scales are typically paired with a scale house to allow an attendant to record inbound/outbound vehicles and manage traffic flow. Scales can help reduce wait times compared to relying on an attendant to visually assess the volume of materials. Cost considerations include the size and features of scales, computers, software, maintenance and amortization.

The Depot Costing Model can help determine the cost versus benefit of installing a scale/scale house or a kiosk and estimate staff costs.

Kiosks without scales allow staff to monitor depot usage and maintain traffic flow. Attendants can oversee volume-based payment transactions and manually track vehicle numbers as well as play a vital role in promotion and education.

One-way traffic flow

A one-way approach to traffic flow has been used in many depots resulting in fewer accidents, shorter wait times, improved convenience and an overall safer operating environment for both the public and staff. This better practice applies to both permanent and temporary depot layouts.

Permanent depots often use long-lasting curbs and markings to direct traffic. Temporary depots can use pylons, paint, chalk or physical barriers (e.g. barricades, barriers, rope or chain) and arrow signs to direct traffic.

Keep small vehicles and large equipment separated

Finally, a key safety measure is to ensure as much as possible that small vehicles and user activities are segregated from equipment. To minimize unwanted vehicle interactions:

  • Establish “truck only” access areas, with signs posted for emphasis
  • Allow only transfer vehicles to access a bin area from the service side
  • Schedule removal of materials from the bunkers and bins at either very low traffic user times or before or after receiving hours
  • Have staff monitor the areas when large vehicles are present

Storage and Transfer

Proper storage and handling of recyclables ensures higher quality and market revenues. Keeping materials separated and contamination free is critical. Storage requirements will also determine transfer handling costs and overall site dimensions.

Choosing the right storage solution
  • Choosing the right storage solution depends on the type of material, contamination concerns and site size.

The type of storage required at a depot will depend on:

  • The amount and type of materials expected to be received in relation to the level of waste collection service provided in the community (e.g. curbside collection or self-haul only), the level of seasonal population and the type of waste generators (e.g. residential and/or commercial) permitted to use the depot. Depots accessible to small commercial businesses are typically required to manage much larger quantities of cardboard than resident only depots.
  • The geographic distance to markets/processing and the maximum length of storage time feasible. The further the distance to markets, the longer materials will be stored at the depot to ensure transport is financially viable.
  • The overall size of the depot. The larger the site, the more opportunity for material separation and the more storage options available. Remote sites lacking hydro are more restricted in the types of diversion activities offered.

The slides below explores the uses, pros and cons of the most common storage solutions, including piles, bunkers, carts, open and closed bins, containers, in-ground containers, compactors, and enclosed structures. More storage sophistication, i.e. providing greater volume and protection from the elements, also incurs higher capital costs.

Storage Solutions

The Depot Costing Model can help compare bin types, sizes and costs. The model can also compare bin sizes and compaction ratios for the total depot tonnage to help estimate transfer costs.

Safe access and handling
  • Depot layout is key to maintaining safe access and should emphasize one-directional traffic flow to minimize vehicle interactions.

Depot layout will impact the type of bins selected and how they are configured to maximize user and staff safe access and handling. Bin placement may be at ground level, with walk-in, side or top access, or elevated with a ramp or saw-tooth loading structure.

Ground Level Access

Smaller front end load bins are typically placed on the ground and require users to feed materials through openings at the side or top. Larger bins (40 yd3) may be placed on the ground but require stairs and platforms to enable easier access to the openings or access through open bin doors. Stairs and platforms must be constructed to minimize slips during inclement weather and kept free of snow and ice. Some large bins open from the side, enabling users to discard material from ground level, however, the bins rarely reach full capacity using this approach.

The 40 yd3 bin at Calvin Township landfill has stairs to access the openings which are protected from the weather by a roof.
Recycling bins at Thunder Bay are placed side by side to encourage small vehicles to access them in one direction only.

For safe access, bins should be placed side by side facing one direction to eliminate the need for cars to back-up or turn around. If vehicles need to use a bin at the front of the line then road space should be provided to circle back to the beginning of the line.

Elevated Access

Larger sites may choose to construct top load, drive up and drop off areas with sawtooth bin walls for 40 yd3 bins. This design enables users to conveniently park above and toss material down into a large capacity bin then drive down the other side. The sawtooth structures can be basic, using earth as the raised bed, or more sophisticated using precast modular cement blocks or poured concrete.

Basic sawtooth structure

Sophisticated sawtooth structure

Sawtooth structures typically force traffic to move in one direction by entering the structure at one end and exiting at the other. The other major benefit is the ability to keep small vehicles (users) safely separated from large vehicles (transporters and equipment). The downside is the lack of flexibility to accommodate additional bins for material separation, hence, planning for future growth is critical when initially installing concrete sawtooth facilities.

The Depot Costing Model can calculate cost estimates for selected sawtooth structures. The costing model recommends budgeting $8,000 per bin wall, with a minimum of five walls.

Other public safety features include:


Heavy gauge galvanized steel guardrails should be installed for any drop off where customers risk falling into bins. Rails will be used for leverage so design accordingly for strength, user abuse and slow speed vehicle contact. Another alternative is to build lower structures so that the top of the bins are at waist level and act as their own guardrails. The downside is that if all sawtooth positions are not filled with bins, an unguarded opening is accessible by the public.


Directional indicators, such as arrows and markings, are used to direct traffic or show where bins are located. Other signs can warn users of potential dangers.


Use barriers to delineate areas and direct traffic flow. Temporary barriers such as safety chains, cones, tape, pylons or chalk can warn users about potential problem areas or direct traffic. Permanent barriers like barricades, fencing and curbs offer protection from potentially dangerous areas.