Here’s Where Arlington’s Trash and Recycling Goes

(Updated at 1 p.m.) Arlington’s 33,000 single family homes generate on average a little more than a ton of garbage and recyclable material apiece, per year. But where exactly does it go?

Erik Grabowksy, Arlington County’s Solid Waste Bureau Chief, has the answer to that question.

The process starts at home with a system that many residents likely familiar with. Arlington County gives its residents a blue recycling can for recyclables and a black trash can for garbage. Though they’re placed on the same curb, the contents of those cans will end up in two different places.

Recycling magnet (Courtesy of Arlington County)Collection crews take paper, bottles, cans and plastic to a processing center in Merrifield where those items are converted into raw materials for sale on the commodities market, Grabowsky said. (An earlier version of this article reported erroneously that the processing center was in Manassas.)

The raw materials then go to a facility in Elkridge, Maryland for further processing.

“That is basically paper, cardboard, aluminum, steel cans, plastic bottles and that type of material,” Grabowsky said. “That material is collected in a separate truck and taken to what is called a material recovery facility where there is a series of conveyors and sorting processes which separate the material into different commodities.”

If it’s regular trash, it travels to a Covanta Energy facility in Alexandria where it is burned to generate electricity. According to Covanta, the facility can process up to 970 tons of trash each day and generate up to 23 megawatts of energy.

“On the waste hierarchy — when you talk about reduce, reuse, recycle — incineration is above landfilling because it has some value with energy recovery associated with it,” said Grabowsky.

Grabowsky said the facility complies with EPA standards and that, because of the location, it is constantly evaluated to strict emissions standards.

“Because of the EPA and the fact that we’re in a non-attainment area, we have very high air emissions standards,” he said. “The plant is evaluated constantly and it is way below the EPA established threshold for any kind of toxins or SO2 (sulfur dioxide).”

Along with recyclables and regular trash, county workers also collect electronic, metal and yard waste. The metal is converted into scrap and sold while the electronic waste is taken to be deconstructed and stripped of valuable minerals and other components.

For yard waste, it is taken to a facility where it is ground up into compost used to enrich the soil, Grabowski said.

“We have a very comprehensive collection system with a whole bunch of different material going in different directions,”said Grabowsky. “We want them to be used in their highest and best use. We try to stay away from landfilling and recycle as much as possible.”

Video by Omar DeBrew


Garbage Truck Runs into Tesla in Dominion Hills

Tesla Model S (photo via Twitter)A county worker was sent to the hospital after a garbage truck collided with a Tesla on Tuesday morning.

The incident happened around 9 a.m., at the intersection of N. Madison Street and 9th Road N., in the Dominion Hills neighborhood.

Police say the garbage truck was turning right onto N. Madison Street, but was waiting for a pedestrian to cross the street. A driver in the high-end electric sports sedan apparently became impatient and attempted to go around the truck, according to Arlington County Police spokesman Dustin Sternbeck.

With the Tesla in the truck’s blindspot, the truck driver proceeded forward and ran into the car, Sternbeck said.

A county worker on the garbage truck was transported to the hospital for “precautionary reasons.” The woman driving the Tesla was determined to be at fault for improper passing but did not receive a traffic citation, according to Sternbeck.

File photo via Twitter


County Wants Feedback Before Starting Year-Round Yard Waste Collection

Yard waste (photo via Arlington County)

(Updated at 10:25 a.m.) Last year it looked like Arlington County would soon be starting year-round yard waste collection. That is, until Arlington’s waste hauling contractors lost out on the yard waste contract and sued the county.

The year-round yard waste collection proposal has since been in limbo. With the lawsuits withdrawn, it is now on track again to becoming a reality — as soon as Spring 2016 — but only if it garners enough public support.

Arlington is conducting an online survey through Friday (Sept. 25) to gauge resident interest in the service.

“Results from the survey will be presented to the County Board this fall, who will then make the decision about whether to add year-round yard waste to the other waste collection services,” said Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services spokeswoman Jessica Baxter.

Adding the year-round collection would mean an optional third cart for residents to bring to the curb every week and a not-optional extra $33 per year added to their current $271 per year residential waste collection bill. The county says that even at $304 per year, Arlington’s rate would remain the lowest in the area.

Currently, Arlington conducts a seasonal yard waste collection: 10 weeks of leaf collection in the fall and 6 weeks of yard debris collection in the spring. The collected items are then composted. At all other times during the year, organic material is treated as trash and incinerated.

In addition to environmental benefits, “the logistics for handling year-round yard waste would be less demanding than turning the system on and off at points during the year,” according to a county press release.

Arlington has since dumped KMG Hauling and Bates Trucking, the contractors that filed suit, and is touting the benefits of its new contract with American Disposal Services. Among them:

  • “Reduced pollution from compressed natural gas collection vehicles.”
  • “$5.5 million savings on core services through the length of the 10-year contract.”
  • “More responsive customer service through advanced collection vehicle and cart monitoring.”

Morning Notes

View of the Roosevelt Bridge from the bike path (Flickr pool photo by eschweik)

Shirlington Oktoberfest Road Closures — Several streets in the Shirlington area will be closed Saturday for the annual Capitol City Brewing Mid-Atlantic Oktoberfest. As seen in a county-produced video, there are a number of ways to get to the event without a car. [Arlington County, YouTube]

Composting Will Add to Waste Collection Cost — A plan to add a composting program for organic materials to Arlington’s solid waste collection could cost Arlington homeowners an extra $30-35 per year. Currently, homeowners pay just under $300 annually for Arlington’s residential waste collection. [Sun Gazette]

Delays on Blue, Yellow Lines — Metro riders on the Blue and Yellow lines can expect some additional delays this weekend. Due to track work, trains will run every 16 minutes (instead of every 12 minutes) during daylight hours. [WMATA]

Flickr pool photo by eschweik


Morning Notes

CivFed Wants Separate Vote on Aquatics Center — The Arlington County Civic Federation would like the County Board to make the $42.5 million Long Bridge Park aquatics center project a standalone bond vote in November. County Manager Barbara Donnellan had proposed that that the project be included in a larger park bond that will go to Arlington voter on Nov. 6. [Sun Gazette]

Arlington Garbage Survey — The Arlington County Solid Waste Bureau is seeking feedback on its trash and recycling collection services. From an email: “The County would like your input on trash and recycling services. We invite you to take this ten minute Trash and Recycling Survey and help us determine the best way to meet the County’s waste management needs. Results will be used to assess our current services and offerings.” [Survey Monkey]

Jefferson-Jackson Dinner Tomorrow — The Arlington County Democratic Committee will hold its annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner tomorrow (Friday). The keynote speaker at the event is former Virginia First Lady Anne Holton, wife of current U.S. Senate candidate Tim Kaine. Tickets to the event, held at the Westin Arlington Gateway Hotel in Ballston, are $125. [Arlington Democrats]


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