Arlington says it’s having trouble collecting trash due to labor shortage, hot weather

Bagged brush and organics in the green bin, ahead of collection day (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Arlington County is having more trash trouble.

Late last week, an email was sent to residents acknowledging that it’s been a “something of a challenge” in recent weeks for curbside pick-up of trash, recycling, and green organics. The note goes on to say that the job market, driver shortages, supply chain issues, and the “early record heat” are the main culprits.

“We’re now seeing a rising number of collection routes not being completed until the next day, particularly for green organics carts that are often the last serviced due to routing based on processing facility locations,” reads the email.

Like many jurisdictions, Arlington uses a contractor for trash pick-up. That contractor is American Disposal Services.

Peter Golkin, Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services (DES) spokesperson, tells ARLnow the problem started in April, coinciding with the annual increase in green-cart organics being put curbside for pick-up — as well as the start of warmer temperatures.

He couldn’t estimate when the issues might be resolved and says the issue is “largely beyond the control of Arlington County.” Golkin notes that such challenges are also being endured by other localities in the region. American Disposal Services is continuously looking to hire more employees, but it continues to be hard, he says.

“It’s hard to give an estimated time for improved conditions… The County’s contractor has raised wages several times in the past 18 months and pays well above the County mandated living wage of $17/hour,” Golkin wrote in an email. “It’s simply difficult right now — at any wage — to find people willing to work 10-hour days doing demanding physical labor outdoors in the region’s heat conditions.”

Overall, county crews service about 6,500 households a day that put out an average of three carts, said the email sent to residents. Meaning, there are about 20,000 carts that are in need of pick-up on a daily basis, which does not include bulk items or bags of yard debris and other organics.

“It’s demanding, exhausting work easily complicated by quickly arising factors like storms and equipment failures,” it reads.

The recent hot weather is also complicating the situation. More than $3,000 worth of sports drinks have been downed by crews recently, the county said, and supply chain issues are making it hard to find replacement parts when a truck breaks down.

“Until global supply chain issues begin to ease, we anticipate vehicle breakdowns will continue to hamper collection routes,” Golkin said.

Arlington has had other recent trash problems. Last month, residents complained of overflowing public trash bins in Pentagon City and Crystal City. That issue was mostly the result of increased seasonal tourism, the county said while pledging to fix the problem.

As for what residents can do to ease the trash collection backlog, the county is asking those impacted to remain patient, report missed trash service, be considerate about the number of items left curbside, and to remember that those working “aren’t in it for the glamor.”

The email also notes that Waste and Recycling Workers Week starts June 17.

“The people on the trucks can always use a friendly wave or even a note of thanks taped to a cart. They perform an absolutely essential service that is so easy to take for granted,” Golkin said. “Perhaps not anymore.”