The garbage is out, but it’s not being taken in.
Complaints about missed trash pickups by private companies have been on the rise during the past two months in Fairfax County and officials said they’re on the case.
The Solid Waste Management Program of the Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services (DPWES) as of May 1 had received 143 missed-pickup complaints this year, including many from large homeowners associations representing thousands of residents, said DPWES spokesman Matthew Kaiser.
Complaints have been coming in from all over the county “almost every day,” but most have originated in the Braddock, Dranesville and Springfield magisterial districts, he said.
DPWES picks up trash for about 45,000 homes in the county, with the rest – about 400,000 – being served by 22 private companies. County crews typically do not do pickups at apartment, townhouse or condominium complexes, but do provide service for some public-housing and institutional customers, such as George Mason University’s on-campus housing, Kaiser said.
The situation has gotten the attention of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. Several county agencies have been in contact with Manassas-based American Disposal Services – one of the firms mentioned most often in customers’ complaints – to try to resolve the issues, said Supervisor John Cook (R-Braddock).
“I am preparing a Board Matter for [the May 7] board meeting that would direct all county agencies to look at all potential actions that we could take to force American to live up to the contracts it made with county residents,” he said.
The problem centers around a shortage of drivers with commercial driver’s licenses (CDLs), which has been caused by good economic conditions, said Supervisor Patrick Herrity (R-Springfield).
“You’ve got people who are in the trash-collection business who can climb up to better jobs,” he said. “A driver for UPS or Amazon probably makes $10 per hour more . . . The biggest problem we’re seeing now is with American [Disposal Services], but they’re all facing labor shortages.”
Herrity on May 1 spoke with local and regional managers of American Disposal Services, as well as county solid-waste staffers, to discuss the ongoing problems and what the company was planning to do to solve them. Company officials said they were increasing driver recruitment, offering bonus pay to ones who did not miss shifts and trying to attract employees who could be trained as CDL-qualified drivers, he said.
The Sun Gazette twice attempted to contact American Disposal Services on May 3, but was put on hold both times and told to expect wait times of about an hour to speak to a representative. The company, which in December 2018 was acquired by Toronto-based Waste Connections Inc., did not respond to e-mail query before the newspaper went to press.
County officials have stepped up compliance and enforcement efforts and Herrity said he has asked the Health Department to become involved.
Herrity said he and Supervisor Cook at the May 8 meeting “will ask the county attorney to come back to us in closed session on what our legal options are. We’re going to do everything we can to get it fixed.”
Former Fairfax County Planning and Zoning Director Jim Zook, who now is president of the Little Rocky Run homeowners association’s board of trustees, said American Disposal Services had provided “very good” service until about a month ago.
Residents of the homeowners association have reported 29 delayed pickups of trash and/or recycling since March 20, Zook said.
“We don’t know they’re not coming until the day of service,” Zook said. “They sometimes will come the following day, sometimes in four or five days. Sometimes they’ll miss a pickup for an entire week. More frequently, they do a delayed service.”
Private companies are licensed to collect trash in the county and officials have some recourse, said Supervisor John Foust (D-Dranesville).
“I assume that if they do a very poor job of delivering service, we are able to pull their license and their business in Fairfax County,” he said. “I would assume that other carriers would step up and compete for the business.”
While there are no costs for an operating certificate, the firms must pay a $135 permit fee for each truck. The companies pay a surety bond as well, which varies depending on the size of the firm and the amount of tonnage it collects, Kaiser said.
Fairfax County officials investigate complaints to determine if companies are violating operating provisions in the county code, Kaiser said. If so, officials can take enforcement action. If customers experience problems that are not county-code violations, they can ask the companies for restitution, sue for breach of contract or get a new collector, he said.
Unlike single-family homeowners, who usually have sufficient property or yard space to store trash, recycling or yard waste that hasn’t been picked up yet, townhouse owners have fewer options, Zook said.
“We are concerned about rodents,” he said, noting that trash left outside overnight attracts the gnawing mammals.