Trash troubles persist in Fairfax County, with residents reporting missed pick-ups

An American Disposal truck in Fairfax County (staff photo by Matt Blitz)

Fairfax County is still having trash troubles.

Earlier this month in his weekly newsletter, Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay wrote that he was “aware of multiple complaints” about the performance of some contracted trash collectors in the county.

While neighboring localities faced similar challenges earlier this summer, McKay said that was little excuse for haulers not providing customers proper service.

“While these companies face the same staffing and supply chain issues that have impacted everyone, they still owe it to their customers to be fully transparent about this process,” McKay wrote.

About 90% of all county residents and businesses have their trash, recycling, and yard waste picked up by private haulers paid for by individual residents, homeowners’ associations, or similar organizations. That’s about 381,000 residential units.

The remaining 10%, mainly concentrated in the east, have their trash picked up by Fairfax County.

McKay wrote in the newsletter that the process to petition for a neighborhood to have its waste picked up by the county is currently “suspended.”

McKay told FFXnow that residents have reported contracted waste haulers missing pick-ups and failing to communicate about what’s going on.

It’s unclear exactly how many of the nearly 400,000 residences serviced by private haulers are having trash troubles, but McKay’s office believes it’s a “significant” number “based on the feedback to our offices and what we see on social media.”

The issue also has been going on for months. In February, the Board of Supervisors Environmental Committee got a memo outlining some of the issues, resident complaints, and potential solutions.

According to the memo, starting in November of last year, residents have complained significantly more about private contractor American Disposal than any other. The company faced similar problems and resident complaints in 2019 as well.

In April, American Disposal reduced pickups from twice a week to once due to ongoing labor shortages. Additionally, there are reports on NextDoor and Reddit that the company is raising its rates by 10%, angering customers even further.

FFXnow reached out to American Disposal for comment but has yet to hear back as of publication.

The board chair’s office said it has heard about rate increases anecdotally but hasn’t gotten any official notice from American Disposal.

“We can certainly understand and relate to the frustration and continue to actively look into the operations of our private haulers,” McKay’s office said.

McKay says that, in discussions with county officials, private waster haulers have blamed a “shortage of drivers with commercial driver’s licenses” as the main reason for missed pick-ups. He’s skeptical.

“This alone should not result in some of the significant problems our residents face as our haulers do not lack for resources to remedy staffing and related issues,” McKay said.

The February memo raised potential solutions, including making more residents eligible to get their trash picked up by the county, putting private haulers under local jurisdiction, and “franchising” — a competitive process where a single private collector gets the right to service a particular area under regulatory constraints.

However, due to state law, certain conditions need to be met for the county to franchise trash service.

McKay said the county is exploring all those options, including working with the state, and “should have a report on these findings shortly.” Meanwhile, he told FFXnow they are trying to do something now — including potentially administering fines.

“State law greatly limits the ability of the County to displace private haulers as some have asked for, so we are instead working to firmly negotiate with these companies to ensure timely pick-ups, regulate where our local ordinance permits, and if necessary levy fines and other administrative punishments,” he said by email.

While he knows residents are upset, McKay said revoking trash collectors’ licenses “would make a bad situation untenable, with service abruptly ending for tens of thousands of residences and businesses with no ready alternative.”

He also wants residents to know that he’s not immune to the trash troubles either.

“I personally understand residents’ frustration,” he said. “My position as Chairman does not prevent me from having weeks of missed collections as well.”