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Christmas trees for sale at the Pan Am Shopping Center in Merrifield (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Christmas Day has come and gone, but the trees festooned with lights and tinsel for the occasion need to stay up for another week if you’re counting on a curbside pickup.

For the roughly 10% of residents served by Fairfax County, the Department of Public Works and Environmental Services will collect live trees for recycling from Jan. 1-13 as part of its regular waste services.

Private trash companies licensed to operate in the county are also required to pick up trees 8 feet or shorter that are set outside in single-family and townhouse communities during the first two weeks in January.

“At the end of the two-week collection period, residents serviced by the County can schedule a brush pick-up for trees,” DPWES said in a news release. “Those who utilize a private company should contact their hauler with questions regarding collection of Christmas trees following the two-week period for special tree collection.”

Community members can also dispose of their trees directly at the I-66 Transfer Station (4618 West Ox Road) and I-95 Landfill Complex (9850 Furnace Road) in Lorton during their operating hours, though both have a $9 recycling fee for Christmas trees.

Trees that get recycled are turned into mulch that the county offers to residents.

Lights, ornaments, stands and other accessories must be removed before disposal.

“DPWES asks residents to dispose of tree lights in their recycling or trash because they get tangled in our machinery and their components are bad for the environment,” the department said, noting that lights can be dropped off at the county’s e-waste disposal sites or potentially local hardware stores.

For artificial trees, the county advises donating them to a charitable organization or church if they’re still in good condition. Local options include the Springfield nonprofit ECHO, which accepts Christmas trees in November and December, and GreenDrop sites, which also accept decorations.

In the Town of Vienna, curbside collection services will be provided for natural Christmas trees throughout January, and Town of Herndon residents can get trees picked up on their regularly scheduled trash day from Jan. 3-5 and Jan. 10-12.

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Fairfax County offers curbside fall leaf collection services (courtesy DPWES)

Fairfax County will continue providing fall leaf collection services at least until the 2025-2026 season, the Department of Public Works and Environmental Services announced today.

Consideration of a proposal to eliminate the service has been suspended for now. The department sought public feedback on the recommendation this summer, citing environmental concerns, rising costs and “operational issues,” including staff shortages and collection delays.

Annandale Today first reported last week that DPWES has backed off its plan, citing an email from Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross, who represents most of the approximately 25,000 residents who use the county’s leaf collection services.

DPWES staff maintain that the service may not be worth continuing long-term, but the results of this summer’s online survey convinced them that it’s not the right time to end it.

“Seasonal vacuum leaf service is not necessary to maintain healthy trees, has negative environmental impacts, detracts from the County’s core residential trash collection service, and creates public safety challenges,” DPWES said in a press release. “However, results from an online survey conducted by DPWES indicated most respondents were in favor of keeping the service and many current customers needed more information about alternative leaf management methods.”

An online petition opposing an end to leaf collections has garnered almost 1,500 signatures. In an Oct. 19 update, the petition creator credited Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay and other supervisors who represent the affected residents with halting the proposal.

McKay’s office confirmed to FFXnow that he had directed staff to pause the proposal at a recent meeting with them.

DPWES says it will use the next few years to conduct an outreach campaign focused on informing residents “on more environmentally-beneficial alternatives to manage leaves on-site,” such as mulching and composting. The county also collects yard waste as part of its regular trash services.

The department notes that residents can petition the county to voluntarily withdraw from the service.

This year’s vacuum leaf collection season will start as scheduled in November.

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Fairfax County offers curbside fall leaf collection services (courtesy DPWES)

The coming winter’s leaf collection season might be Fairfax County’s last.

The Department of Public Works and Environmental Services has proposed terminating the leaf vacuum services it provides to thousands of residents after each fall, citing rising costs and “operational issues.”

A survey seeking public input on the recommendation has launched and will remain open until Aug. 18.

“During the 2022-2023 season, the program experienced numerous setbacks including collection delays, staffing shortages, a larger volume of leaves than normal, and inclement weather,” DPWES said in a news release. “After assessing the service, County staff propose to discontinue vacuum leaf service when the upcoming season concludes, along with the tax imposed for the service.”

Approximately 25,000 residents get leaf collection service through the county, according to DPWES, whose Solid Waste Management Program staff works with private contractors to vacuum up leaves from the curb three times a season, typically between November and January.

The collection areas are established through resident petitions and supported by a special tax based on property values. The eight areas that the county currently has are concentrated in the east, including parts of McLean, Idylwood, Bailey’s Crossroads, Lake Barcroft and Fort Hunt.

Last year, the county encountered delays in its leaf collections as it wrangled with staff shortages, equipment issues and an earlier-than-usual leaf fall.

DPWES says those issues could affect its ability to provide reliable service going forward, and customers have also raised concerns about lingering leaves disrupting public safety, including by:

  • Blocking storm drains, creating flooding concerns
  • Contributing to pedestrian and vehicle conflicts when pedestrians are forced to walk in streets
  • Creating fire hazards from vehicles parked on leaves
  • Presenting slip-and-fall hazards from people walking on slippery leaves
  • Reducing on-street parking

Other considerations include increased costs and environmental issues. DPWES grinds up the collected leaves into mulch that’s distributed at various sites for free.

From the press release:

The County is facing increased costs to provide vacuum leaf collection. Due to the need for an additional contractor, overtime for County employees and temporary contractors support workers, it is estimated the 2023 season will incur an approximate $900,000 deficit and another predicted $400,000 deficit at the end of fiscal year 2024. The service also conflicts with the County’s adopted sustainability policies to reduce waste and greenhouse gas emissions.

The upcoming 2023-2024 collection season will take place as scheduled, since residents were already charged back in January, DPWES says.

In addition to filling out the survey, residents can weigh in on the proposal to end services by leaving a voicemail or texting “leaf collection” to 703-890-5898, Project Code: 2159.

A final decision will be made this fall by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

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Fairfax County will kick off a two-year Compost Outpost pilot at the I-66 Transfer Station on Wednesday (courtesy DPWES)

Fairfax County wants your food scraps and yard waste.

The county will officially launch its new compost outpost at the I-66 Transfer Station (4618 West Ox Road) with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 11 a.m. tomorrow (Wednesday).

Part of a two-year-long pilot program, the facility consists of two 20-foot-long shipping containers modified so that visitors can drop off organic waste in the dirt-filled receptacles.

“It is designed to create optimal conditions for composting and is a test facility to demonstrate small-scale, decentralized, organics processing,” the Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services (DPWES) said in a media advisory.

The pilot will expand the county’s efforts to promote composting, which makes soil healthier by returning nutrients to the earth, reducing erosion and improving its ability to hold water, according to the Virginia Cooperative Extension.

The county has also been accepting food scraps for composting at the I-95 Landfill Complex (9850 Furnace Road) in Lorton and at some farmers markets, though the 2023 season isn’t set to begin until later this month.

The I-66 outpost will process food scraps and yard waste from residents and county facilities, though residents must drop off their collections directly.

“We will not be picking them up for this program,” DPWES spokesperson Sharon North said.

The resulting compost is expected to be initially used at county parks, according to North.

The pilot will help the county determine the facility’s effectiveness and provide a visible demonstration of “the ability…to take a waste product and turn it into a locally sourced and readily available resource that can be used to enhance the community,” said Matt Adams, director of the Solid Waste Management Program in the DPWES Engineering and Environmental Compliance Division.

“The Compost Outpost pilot demonstrates this by utilizing sustainable materials, such as plant material and food scraps that are currently treated as a waste products to be removed from the community, and transforming them into compost that can be used locally,” Adams said in a statement to FFXnow. “This greatly benefits the environment and the county’s overall sustainability goals by lowering emissions through the reduction [of] transportation/processing practices and adds to the resources available within a community.”

Here’s more on the pilot from DPWES:

The two-year pilot was approved by the Department of Environmental Quality and aligns with the county’s Zero Waste Policy by diverting food waste and other organics from municipal waste streams.

Over the course, the operational impacts, as well as the production of the finished compost will be assessed to determine the project’s feasibility and efficacy.

The Compost Outpost pilot will cost approximately $100,000. It is funded by the county’s Zero Waste Team and hosted by the Solid Waste Management Program and its partner, Compost Crew.

More information on the materials accepted for composting can be found on the DPWES website.

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Town of Herndon government offices (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Ever since Loudoun Composting closed its yard waste facility last June, the Town of Herndon has been on the look for a new regional partner to process its organic materials.

At a Herndon Town Council work session on Feb. 21, the town formalized an agreement with Prince William County to sent its waste to a compost facility in Manassas.

The facility has been owned by Prince William since 1994, and the composting portion is operated by a private company through a contract with the county.

The Prince William County Board of Supervisors approved the agreement on Jan. 17. The county has similar agreements with Arlington and Fairfax counties.

“This is to essentially make it a more formal agreement,” said Tammy Chastain, deputy director of Herndon’s public works department.

Chastain said the town has been shifting its organic materials since July. The Loudoun facility closed because the property it was located on was sold.

The cost of the service will depend on the amount of yard waste picked up from residents, Chastain said. She noted that the cost of the Prince William facility is comparable to the cost of the Loudoun facility.

“Even though we go a little bit further, I think the cost is pretty darn close,” Chastain said.

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Fallen leaves on the ground (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

With winter on the horizon, Fairfax County is still racing to suck up the last leafy vestiges of autumn.

Specifically, the county’s crews have yet to pick up leaves in McLean and Idylwood, as a combination of staffing shortages, equipment issues and an early leaf fall have delayed collections, the Department of Public Works and Environmental Services acknowledged yesterday.

The county will deploy multiple trucks and has hired an additional contractor to collect leaves in both areas on Monday (Dec. 19), a deviation from its typical approach of serving each of its nine collection areas separately.

“By dividing resources, it will take additional time to complete each area,” DPWES said. “Service in both remaining areas will begin concurrently. Vacuum collection staff have been working 10-hour shifts and most Saturdays and will continue to do so.”

About 25,000 residents receive leaf collection services from the county, all of them concentrated on the east side, especially the Mason District. Pickups have been completed in areas three through nine.

Public works services nationwide have been affected by a depletion of truck drivers and other essential employees. Fairfax County had to make some tweaks to its yard waste collections last fall due to a shortage of haulers, and trash pickups continue to be a struggle.

DPWES says it doesn’t have “a mechanism in place” allowing residents to get their leaf collection taxes refunded, but they can opt out of county services by petitioning the Board of Supervisors to “de-create” their vacuum leaf district.

According to the county website, the petition process to create or expand sanitary districts reopened on Dec. 1, but with DPWES apparently at full staff and equipment capacity, the department plans to use private contractors for any additional service areas.

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Morning Notes

Sunlight shines through trees in Reston (photo by Terry Baranski)

D.C. Area Sees Rise in Teacher Resignations –“Resignations spiked enormously at the end of the 2021-2022 academic year in D.C. Public Schools and in several Northern Virginia districts, including Fairfax County…Educators say the reasons for resigning vary. But some cite the difficulty teachers faced readjusting students, many of whom had grown accustomed to pandemic-era remote education, to in-classroom learning this past year.” [The Washington Post]

Police Chief Addresses Gun-Pointing Incident — The Fairfax County Police Department released body camera footage on Friday (July 15) of officers pointing their guns at a person who was filming them outside a West Falls Church IHOP. Chief Kevin Davis said he understands “the anxiety that folks in the community have after seeing this video go viral” but defended the officers’ actions. [WTOP]

Fairfax County Among Wealthiest Counties in U.S. — “A five-year survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau looked at median household income to determine the wealthiest counties in the country…With a median household income of $127,866, Fairfax County arrives on the list at number five.” [Northern Virginia Magazine]

Staffing Challenges Affect County Trash Pickups — “Fairfax County residents have been experiencing trash pickup delays for several months, but Dave Lyons, director of the Fairfax Workers Coalition, said he wants them to know that’s not only because of the pandemic or the strained labor market.” [Fairfax County Times]

Vienna Resident Says No to Leaf Blowers — “Vienna could be more pleasant, family friendly and healthier if the town banned the use of cosmetic lawn chemicals and noisy gas-powered leaf blowers, resident Avril Garland told the Town Council July 11. Both of those policies already have been implemented in Montgomery County, Md., said Garland” [Sun Gazette]

Vienna Considers Removing Church Spire — “Church steeples add interest and variety to Vienna’s skyline, but the one at the former Faith Baptist Church likely will be coming down. The Vienna Town Council at its Aug. 29 meeting will consider a proposal to remove the spire at the former church.” [Sun Gazette]

Reston Woman Made Disguises for CIA — “A 27-year veteran of the U.S. intelligence community, [Jonna] Mendez unmasks the secrets of how she helped transform the CIA in her new memoir, titled ‘In True Face,’ available early next year. Mendez, now 77, developed shockingly realistic methods for instantly changing appearances, carrying concealed cameras, and protecting operatives in the field.” [Northern Virginia Magazine]

School Board Selects New Chair — “The Fairfax County School Board has elected Rachna Sizemore Heizer (Member-at-Large) as chair and Tamara Derenak Kaufax (Franconia District Representative) as vice chair for a one-year term. The chair and vice chair assumed office at the July 14 School Board meeting” [FCPS]

Huntington Affordable Housing Apartments Now Leasing — “The Arden — a 126-unit affordable housing community developed, owned, and operated by Wesley Housing — is nearing completion and leasing activities have just begun! Apartment homes at The Arden will be available for applicants earning between 40 and 80 percent of the Area Median Income.” [Housing and Community Development]

See Fairfax County Police Officers Rescue Man From Smoke — “Our officers do amazing work every day. Watch as two officers from our Franconia District Station save a man trapped in a smoked-filled apartment.” [FCPD/Twitter]

It’s Monday — Rain in the evening. High of 85 and low of 74. Sunrise at 5:59 am and sunset at 8:33 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Fallen leaves can be turned into mulch (via Susan Jones/Unsplash)

The Town of Vienna will no longer grind up fallen leaves at its collection facility on Beulah Road NE, ending a program that has delivered free mulch to residents for decades.

The Vienna Town Council voted unanimously yesterday (Monday) to turn the upcoming leaf collection season into a trial period, maintaining the Beulah Road facility as a storage site while exploring the best method for transporting leaves for disposal.

“We give you the flexibility to essentially determine what the cheapest alternatives are,” Councilmember Chuck Anderson said to town staff. “Then, we revisit this next year to see what the results of your sort of transitional year is to figure out the efficient way of doing this.”

The town’s mulching operations at the 8-acre Beulah Road site have been the subject of debate for years, with residents taking exception to the machine’s noise, smell, and environmental impact.

Rising leaf disposal costs led the town to reevaluate its collection program, which ground up about one-third of the leaves collected every fall into mulch and sent the remainder to Loudoun Composting.

Town staff presented several possible alternatives, including using the Beulah site for storage but transporting all leaves to Loudoun Composting and taking the leaves directly to the disposal site.

While some community members expressed appreciation for the town’s mulch deliveries at a public hearing in March, a survey of whether users would still order mulch if they had to pay $50 per load received mixed results, with 62 out of 114 respondents saying they would.

“I don’t see any economic or environmental justification whatsoever for continuing the mulching,” Anderson said. “…It’s just something that’s costing the town and causing a lot of issues for people who live nearby.”

Instead of settling on a definitive process, the town will take a variety of approaches to this year’s leaf collection season, which will begin in late October, to see how the program will work without mulching and what costs to expect.

A staff analysis found that, based on current fuel costs, it would cost Vienna $138.02 per hour to hire rental trucks to transport leaves for disposal, compared to $192.81 an hour to use its own trucks. The rental trucks can also carry 25 cubic yards of leaves to the town truck’s 21 cubic yards.

“By using the rental trucks, we have more capacity, which equals fewer trips, which equals fewer miles and fewer gallons, so it is truly efficient, but it also allows flexibility that is required. We’re not limiting staff to that one option,” Councilmember Steve Potter said.

While the town will stop providing mulch, the council directed staff and the Conservation and Sustainability Commission to develop recommendations for a program to encourage residents to mulch leaves on their own properties.

Many localities, including Fairfax County, are already encouraging residents to “leave their leaves,” citing the environmental benefits of composting or using a mower to mulch leaves so they can decompose.

Anderson suggested Vienna could develop an educational program and potentially offer incentives for on-site leaf mulching.

“I know that not everyone is in a position to do this, but the work of staff and the CSC made it very clear that, from an environmental standpoint, that was by far the lowest carbon footprint and the best result,” Anderson said. “From an economic standpoint, it’s also the cheapest, because we don’t incur the costs of picking [leaves] up and all the rest.”

With its mulching operations shutting down, the town now has to find a long-term use for the Beulah Road leaf collection site. Some neighboring residents have advocated for turning the property into a park.

“We’re not going to be using that land 10, 15 years from now for leaves,” Councilmember Ray Brill said.

Photo via Susan Jones/Unsplash

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The Town of Vienna is contemplating eliminating its free mulch delivery services (via Maddy Baker/Unsplash)

To mulch or not to mulch? That is the question the Town of Vienna has been mulling for years now, fertilized by resident frustrations with a noisy mulch grinder on Beulah Road.

An answer will come at last later this spring, when the town council votes on whether to continue free mulch delivery services that have been offered to residents for as long as anyone present at Monday’s public hearing (March 21) on the subject could remember.

According to Mayor Linda Colbert, emails sent to the council prior to the hearing were about evenly split between supporters of the mulch service — which uses a portion of the town’s annual leaf collections — and those who want to eliminate it.

“It was obvious people feel very strongly one way or the other, and people mention a lot of good reasons either way,” Colbert said. “It’s something I know all of the council has thought hard about.”

Vienna Director of Public Works Mike Gallagher presented three options for handling collected leaves going forward:

  1. Maintain current operations: Some leaves are ground into mulch at the Beulah Road facility. The remainder is transported to a Loudoun Composting disposal site.
  2. Short haul: Leaves are consolidated at the Beulah site before being hauled away for disposal, ending the mulch program.
  3. Long haul: Leaves go directly to Loudoun Composting, ending the mulch program and use of the Beulah Road facility.

A cost analysis developed with a resident’s assistance suggests the first option would be the most expensive one, while the long haul would be cheapest. If the mulching program ends, Gallagher said some of the expenses would shift to other town operations, rather than getting eliminated.

Vienna could maintain its current mulching operations, end mulching but still use the Beulah site, or eliminate both (via Town of Vienna)

“There’s obviously some pros and cons to each one of these,” he said. Read More

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