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Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Staffing shortages blamed for yard waste pickup delays

Yard waste piled up for weeks on Glen Forest Drive, as well as all over Mason District. [Kevin Phillips]
Bags of yard waste are piling up all over the Annandale/Mason District area as Fairfax County grapples with a severe staff shortage. 

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. 

Related story: New rules for special collection of bulk trash

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.

Related story: Supervisors ban plastic bags for yard waste

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.”


  1. I think that more of a problem is that there is a brain shortage at the County.

    1. Certainly at the Suprvisory Level there is. But I can't say enough good things about the staff, they are hard-working and truly some of best. Please run for District Supervisor... we need some big changes.

  2. This situation is nuts and you get NOTHING (unless your interested in more confusion) if you call or email the relevant offices. And as usual, Penny Gross doesn't offer any solutions or specifics.
    I understand that they can't do three different routes but at least pickup what has been placed out. Let's start with that- they are already there, I don't know why this is so hard and I don't buy their excuses (particularly given the taxes they're getting).

  3. Penny Gross's excuses are just that. She should be urging the board of supervisors to retain a new contractor for yard waste pickup, one with the ability to attract and maintain staff. In addition, Mrs. Gross be urging that taxpayers get a rebate on their trash fees to compensate for the lack of service.

  4. This County may be one of the richest in per capital income. However if falls short with regards to a government that works for the taxpayer. We had better median grass cutting and waste pick up during the peak of COVID. The BoS is an impotent organization and needs to be re-imagined and re-organized.

  5. It's a good thing the County spent all that money to change the names of schools...that will show the yard debris just laying around!

  6. Since the contractor has only picked up 1 time in the past 6 weeks, I am sure that I will be receiving a rebate on what taxes I pay for yard waste pickup. I guarantee you that Fairfax County will soon give up and never pick yard waste up again. They will tell us to compost our yard clippings, branches, etc. They have already given up on glass recycling.

    1. This is going to cause people to start burning brush. Thank you BoS for being so GREEN, or should I say dead wood.

  7. A bag tax and grass 6 feet high or more......on Little River Turnpike in front of retail shops (in the middle of Little River Turnpike). The country doesn't do s*** for this area....especially Penny Gross. She shows up when it is time to run, she gives her ethnic supporters what they want (that is why you have so many areas that are isolated with their particlar ethnic shops), and she refers you to "someone else" when there is a problem. Democrats, especially liberals, just tax and spend.....they NEVER look at ways to reduce their spending like ordinary individuals. Look at the Biden/Harris administration......incompetence! And if you don't believe that, look at the additional 60,000 immigrants heading to our border (and Mayorkas/Biden/Harris) are looking for the problem. Guess where these people will end up? In Northern Virginia and Maryland....and here come more tax increases, especially if McCauliffe (Clinton surrogate) gets elected. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!