Taken From the May 16, 2019 Herrity Report
Working to Resolve Trash Collection Issues
Over the last 45 to 60 days my office has received many complaints about trash, recycling and yard waste collection. I wanted to provide you some information on the problem, steps you can take if you are impacted, an update on my efforts and what the county's and trash company's response has been.
Trash Collection Issues: Countywide we are seeing missed and/or unreliable service from several trash companies including American Disposal Services and Republic. American Disposal Services (ADS) is the largest waste collector licensed to serve residents and businesses in the county and they have several large HOA contracts. Pickups are not being made in accordance with contracts.
American and other haulers, including our staff, state that a nation-wide problem recruiting and retaining employees to drive and work their trucks is a large part of the problem. On a national level, the American Trucking Association reports, the U.S. was short approximately 48,000 drivers in 2015. They also said an estimated 890,000 new hires will be needed over the next decade, with the potential for a shortage of 175,000 drivers in 2024 if the trend continues. This is compounded by the fact that trash haulers are at the bottom of the totem pole and drivers have better work and higher pay working for the many companies, for instance delivering your Amazon packages for instance.
Last year ADS was purchased by Waste Connections, Inc, a Canadian company and the third largest trash company in North America. It is clear the acquisition has a significant impact on ADS's workforce.
The County licenses the trash service providers, but service is provided to residents under private contracts with individual homeowners, business or HOAs. The providers are required by code to pick up once a week each for trash, recycle and yard debris. The county can take some action against the providers (more below) but the agreements are private contracts with the providers that the county is not a party to.
Actions I Have Taken: On May 1, I attended a meeting with county staff including Our Solid Waste Management Program (SWMP) staff, ADS's local management Waste Connections regional management to discuss complaints received as well as a plan for restoration of predictable and reliable service.
According to ADS, their challenge has been in recruiting and retaining workers and skilled truck drivers because of low regional unemployment and a national shortage of truck drivers. They indicated they have implemented several recruiting and retention strategies to address their workforce needs including giving pay raises, sign-on bonuses, attendance bonuses and holding job fairs. Additionally, Waste Connections committed to reassigned equipment and employees from other regional locations to serve in Fairfax County.
One strategy ADS is considering to correct the problem is to move to a once-weekly collection for its customers. They were reminded that with the County's notice requirements for change of schedule and change in fees, there would be an expectation of lower fees for reduced service. I requested that townhome communities remain on a twice-weekly basis, to avoid the health issues associated with set-out plastic bags.
ADS agreed to provide a written plan with detailed weekly milestones and metrics which will allow SWMP staff to assess and monitor their progress. The goal of their plan is to restore predictable and reliable service to their customers. ADS will also provide a plan how they will communicate to their customers any change of service collection including how they will reimburse customers for missed service.
Our SWMP staff will document ADS commitments in an enforceable Consent Agreement. Our SWMP leadership team has informed me that since our meeting, the number of complaints has decreased and many areas, but not all, have had service restored. Also, ADS has begun providing daily status reports on their service schedule. Unfortunately, the Plan and Consent Agreement are still being negotiated. At the meeting I also requested the Health Department be engaged due to the potential for rodent and other public health implications.
I worked with Supervisor Cook to develop a request to have the County Attorney review any and all possible legal courses of action the County could take arising out of the trash companies' failure to meet their commitments. The Board approved the request at our meeting on May 7th and the County Attorney will be reporting back to us in closed session at the May 21st Board meeting.
I will continue to keep you informed of the issues in both social media and future newsletters.
Other Actions the County Is Taking: Our Solid Waste Management Program (SWMP) enforcement division has been working overtime including evenings and weekends to respond to specific violations where trash has not been collected at least once a week.
At the Board's next Environmental Committee meeting in June, the BOS will discuss the national, regional and local issues with our waste collection industry and what role our County can play in resolving some of the issues that we are seeing today.
Actions You Can Take: SWMP has set up a special email to register a complaint with your service provider if you are not receiving trash pick-up as promised by your provider. You can register a complaint with the county at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please continue to notify us of missed service so we can further document the issue
If you have any issues with credit/billing complaints, you can direct them to our Fairfax County Office of Consumer Affairs. They have been successful in securing credits in most cases and even a reduction in rates on future service.
In addition, ADS has set up a site for customers calling to complain or find out about missed pick-ups - the page has a big red banner at the top w/ a link to weekly schedule changes https://www.americandisposal.com/recycling.
My Take On The Current Status: I believe ADS has made some progress since our May 1st meeting but still has a way to go. Some of this has been the result of hiring efforts, resources transferred into the county and the impact of lost customers. Solving a workforce shortage is difficult in a good economy. I am happy to see ADS step up their communication efforts - reliability and predictability are important.
I am looking forward to seeing ADS's final work plan and the weekly goals and the final Consent Agreement. I will keep you informed on both social media and in future newsletters. As always, I welcome your thoughts.