Commentary, Local Commentary

A Penny for Your Thoughts

Taking out the trash is one of those weekly activities that you expect to happen like clockwork: you put the can(s) at the curb early on the morning of the assigned day for pick-up, go about your daily activities, and retrieve the empty can(s) after the trash hauler comes through the neighborhood.  That’s the way it’s supposed to happen, but it’s not always the case.  Some callers report that weeks can go by without garbage collection.  

Approximately 90 percent of Fairfax County residents have contractual relationships with private trash and recycling companies that are authorized to provide services in Fairfax County.  Those customers pay fees directly to the provider.  The remaining 10 percent or so are in sanitary services districts collected by Fairfax County’s Division of Solid Waste, and include many Mason District neighborhoods. Those customers pay an annual fee, which is billed on their real estate tax invoice.  Whether properties have private collection or county service, trash and recycling are supposed to be picked up at least once a week, and yard waste is collected during the growing season, usually March through November, although the terms of individual contracts may vary.

During the pandemic, county and private haulers faced severe service challenges because of COVID-19 and an absence of drivers with Commercial Drivers Licenses (CDLs), needed to operate heavy equipment, both on the road and at the processing locations.  Most providers are offering significant signing bonuses for CDL operators right now, which has addressed some immediate vacancies, but which may be unsustainable in the long term. The CDL staffing issue is a nationwide problem, and affects many industries, not only solid waste. 

Despite the extra efforts of some private haulers, the Board of Supervisors has received many complaints about failure to collect trash and yard waste, most recently by American Disposal Services (ADS), one of two major private haulers in the county. Earlier this year, a settlement between Fairfax County and ADS led to a $2500 civil penalty regarding code violations and a consent agreement to improve service quality.  Nonetheless, in response to continuing complaints, the Board of Supervisors directed the County Executive and the County Attorney to determine further any additional enforcement actions for violations of the county’s Solid Waste Ordinance, and to examine applicable consumer protection statutes and other legal options available to aid residents to receive the services for which they are paying.  The Board also asked for information about local governments’ abilities to move to a different system of solid waste collection that might be subject to state restrictions.  That information should be available in the coming weeks.  As noted by my colleague, Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw, “picking up the trash and picking it up on time is critical to public health, environmental protection, and quality of life in our community.”  All three are at risk when the quality of service fails to meet the standards and expectations of Fairfax County residents.

Two quick items of note: the every-popular book sale at the George Mason Regional Library, 7001 Little River Turnpike in Annandale, returns this week – Thursday, October 20, to Sunday, October 23, from 10:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. each day.  Proceeds benefit the programs sponsored by the Friends of the George Mason Regional Library. 

On Saturday, October 22, the Annandale Parade steps off at 10 a.m. from the intersection of Columbia Pike and Gallows Road, near the historic Little White Church.  Wear your Halloween costume and plan for lots of fun at this longtime community event.  I look forward to seeing you there!