|Yard waste piled up for weeks on Glen Forest Drive, as well as all over Mason District. [Kevin Phillips]|
Kevin Phillips, a resident of Glen Forest Drive in Bailey’s Crossroads, reported on Sept. 26: “Our entire neighborhood hasn’t had a yard waste pick up in more than four weeks.” When he contacted Mason Supervisor Penny Gross’ office, “they said that they also find the situation unacceptable but they didn’t promise a resolution to the issue.” [Phillips’ yard waste was finally picked up on Sept. 28.]
In her newsletter to the community, Gross attributes the poor service to many issues – “staffing vacancies, injuries, equipment failures, heavy amounts of debris set out for collection” – and says she asked County Executive Bryan Hill and Public Works Director Christopher Herrington “to find solutions that work NOW.”
“It is unacceptable for homeowners to have yard debris sitting uncollected for weeks,” Gross said.
Vacancies in the Fairfax County waste collection department are estimated at about 40 percent.
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Staffing shortages in the solid waste industry are a nationwide problem, said John Kellas, director of solid waste and recycling for Fairfax County.
“There is a tremendous amount of competition for drivers, which has an impact on our ability to recruit and retain,” Kellas said. “Since COVID-19, the home delivery business has skyrocketed, often providing more attractive and lucrative trucking jobs in the private sector. Even private solid waste/recycling haulers are struggling during these times.”
Fairfax County only handles trash and recycling for 10 percent of households; the rest are served by private companies. But that 10 percent covers the majority of Mason District.
The county recently adopted a temporary policy change allowing haulers to co-mingle yard waste and trash to ease the burden. Recyclables are still being collected separately.
“We understand the frustration from members of the community, and we appreciate everyone’s patience,” Kellas said. “Meantime, as we continue to actively recruit, our crews continue to go out daily, collecting as much as they can. However, we are unable to get all the yard waste due to limited human resources.”
While some private companies are able to give signing bonuses to attract more drivers, Fairfax County is less flexible and might need approval from the Board of Supervisors to do that.
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Due to the staffing problems, the county has been forced to adopt a triage approach, said Charles Forbes, chief of recycling, compliance, and planning in the Solid Waste Management Program.
Because the county can’t do three separate routes every day for trash, recycling, and yard waste, it decided it’s more sanitary to let yard waste sit on the curb for extra days.
When yard waste gets mixed in with trash, it goes to the Covanta I-95 Energy/Resource Recovery Facility in Lorton, Forbes says, so at least it doesn’t end up in landfills.
Residents can bring their yard waste to the I-66 Transfer Station or the I-95 Landfill Complex, but “we don’t encourage that,” Forbes says because there are disposal fees and long lines full of trash haulers and landscaping company trucks.
Residents pay $14 for up to five bags of yard waste and $18 for up to 10 bags. For bigger loads, the fee is prorated at $64 a ton.
“A lot of communities are suspending yard waste and recycling altogether,” Forbes says “We’re literally doing everything we can think of.”