In Ballston, regardless of the season, workers have been spotted wielding leaf blowers.
Exactly who pays for this work, however, continues to be a mystery.
At least anecdotally, the continued popularity of remote work after Covid has had at least one downside for some residents: more exposure to the sound of leaf blowers. Former opinion columnist Jane Green noted the nuisance in a widely read piece two years ago, rallying 43% of respondents to the cause of banning gas-powered leaf blowers in Arlington, according to an ARLnow poll.
Then last month, a Ballston resident tipped us off to the noise, and in an ensuing unscientific poll a plurality — 41% — said the Ballston leaf blower issue was the most valid noise complaint among two others received by ARLnow.
In a follow-up interview, the anonymous resident, who lives near Welburn Square, says he has heard the leaf blowers ever since moving to his apartment three years ago. He has typically observed the activity around 8 a.m. near the parking lot for Truist Bank (920 N. Taylor Street).
“I frequently hear two leaf blowers running at the same time. I will look out my window and can see the workers wandering around the block spraying with the machines,” he said. “This occurs when there are no leaves and year-round.”
ARLnow scoped out the parking lot and a bank employee confirmed hearing the leaf blowers sometimes.
The bank branch manager stepped in and told ARLnow that the bank does not employ landscapers who use leaf blowers. He said he has never heard noise from leaf blowers nor, to his knowledge, have customers complained about them.
Next door, at the The Jefferson senior living facility, a concierge and two other employees said they have never heard residents or coworkers complain about noises from leaf blowers.
The concierge told ARLnow that he has only occasionally seen landscape workers blowing leaves and debris in The Jefferson courtyard area.
“They are just doing their job. The ones I have seen have only been within our property and do their work pretty quickly,” he said. “It’s also never early in the morning, I could see if this was happening early on in the day, but when I’ve seen them it has been in the afternoon.”
The Ballston Business Improvement District did not respond to questions about whether it had any insights into the mystery of the leafless leaf blowing.
While the hiring organization and the reason behind year-round leaf blowing in Ballston remains unknown, others, like Green, may sympathize. The former columnist wrote in 2021 that she heard leaf blowers daily while working from her apartment.
“Leaf blowers are a drain on quality of life. Their piercing noise shatters concentration or the enjoyment of the outdoors. They spew noxious gas into the air. They can destroy insect habitats,” Green said in her piece, which became the site’s second most-read article in 2021.
She encouraged residents to sign a petition to help put an end to the excessive noise. The petition is shy of its 2,000 signatures and short of its goal of 2,500 signatures. It was created by Quiet Clean NOVA, which advocates for regulations on gas-powered yard equipment.
For now, the mystery remains.
“It seems like a waste of money that generates noise and air pollution for no reason. It seems to make no sense to me,” the Ballston resident said. “I understand if this was happening in the fall when there are leaves everywhere, but this happens year-round. It’ll be the middle of the winter with snow on the ground.”
The reporter, Hallie LeTendre, is a summer intern. Today is her last day at ARLnow.
After a slight weather delay, the second leaf collection pass will start tomorrow (Tuesday).
Arlington County initially posted the second vacuuming could start on Saturday, Dec. 3. Despite the delay, the county aims to finish sucking up dead leaves before Christmas.
“Collection is currently a day or two behind because of recent winds and rain prompting heavy leaf fall but that’s not uncommon and the schedule has some built-in flexibility,” Department of Environmental Services spokesman Peter Golkin. “The end target of Dec. 21 remains on schedule.”
Routes are run Monday through Saturday, according to the county website. Residents can see when their neighborhood is scheduled for services online and can reference an interactive map to track the department’s progress.
Roughly 2,500 tons of leaves were collected during the first pass, which wrapped up Saturday, the DES spokesman says.
“That’s more leaves than the total 2,736 tons for all of last year but less than the 5,706 total tons picked up for all 2020 and the 6,696 total tons in 2019,” he said. “Hard numbers from weighing the leaves won’t be in until the vacuum second pass schedule is completed the second-to-last week of December.”
This year, Arlington County started leaf collection on Nov. 14, a week after last year’s scheduled start, potentially meaning an extra week for curbside leaf piles to get large and soggy.
In response to the change, more than a third of readers said that was too late, according to an unscientific ARLnow poll. On the other hand, a majority said the later start wasn’t a problem: 38% said the current schedule is fine and about a quarter said it should start later.
It appears the later start, determined by Solid Waste Bureau chief Erik Grabowsky and his team of “tree whisperers,” was not a problem for crews.
“As we say on the website, they use ‘historic data, tree types and density, weather forecasts, state forestry forecasts and resident feedback’ to set the schedule and it works out well,” Golkin said.
DES provided these leaf tips for residents preparing for collection:
- Leaves need to be waiting at the curb by the date on the orange signs posted throughout each neighborhood and the first date, NOT the end date, for each neighborhood on the schedule
- Leaves can also go in the green curbside cart (along with food scraps) and paper bags for year-round weekly collection; never use plastic bags for yard waste because those can’t be composted and won’t be collected
- Free paper yard waste bags are available while supplies last (maximum of 15 per resident) at several County facilities
Arlington’s annual vacuum leaf collection service will begin on Nov. 14 this year, the county announced yesterday.
That’s nearly a week after last year’s start date of Nov. 8.
Arlington County crews will make two passes through neighborhoods, hoovering up leaves left curbside. Some neighborhoods won’t get their first pass until early December, according to the 2022 collection schedule. Second passes are scheduled to take place from Dec. 2-21.
— Arlington Department of Environmental Services (@ArlingtonDES) October 17, 2022
With some leaves starting to fall and the local foliage starting to peak, we’re wondering whether locals believe this timing is right or whether the collection should start sooner.
One one hand, the schedule will leave some leaves behind after the second pass. On the other hand, the curbside leaf piles are likely to get pretty large and soggy by the time many receive their first collection.
What do you think?
Cool fall mornings mean leaf collection season is near.
And Arlington’s Department of Environmental Services is reminding homeowners collecting their leaves and cleaning out their gardens to use only paper yard waste bags.
“Plastic ones can’t be composted and won’t be collected. If you have a landscaper, make sure they know,” spokesman Peter Golkin said. “The issue with yard waste in plastic bags is the most glaring problem for organics.”
Leaves bagged in paper can be composted along with other yard waste and food scraps, and turned into compost residents can use in their gardens.
Since September 2021, Arlington County has collected residents’ food scraps mixed in with their yard waste. Participation hovers around 40-45% of homes, and the county says participating residents diverted 27% of their food waste from the incinerator in April 2022, up from 21% in January 2022 and 15% in October 2021.
“As with any new program, there is a learning curve. Arlington is one of the first localities to collect food scraps at the curb,” Golkin said. “Food scraps collection is just over a year old but we hear from new users and even won a 2022 Achievement Award from the Virginia Association of Counties.”
He reported that there is demand for learning more about the organics collection process.
“We had a big turnout for the Rock-n-Recycle Solid Waste Bureau open house this month and got to share loads of information and compostable bags for food scraps, particularly with young families,” he said. “Same for the County Fair. More educational opportunities to come.”
The department will soon distribute a cart hanger with a rundown of what can, and can’t, be put in the cart.
Golkin has two rules of thumb: “If it grows, it goes” and “When in doubt, leave it out.”
— Arlington Department of Environmental Services (@ArlingtonDES) September 22, 2022
So go ahead and put hairs from the hairbrush or fingernail clippings in the food scrap collection bin. Other bathroom trash, like used tissues, however, cannot be composted.
While a variety of products are advertised as “compostable,” residents should take care when disposing them, Golkin says.
“Products that are 100% bamboo are compostable but if you can’t tell, best to put an item in the trash,” he said. “Read disposal instructions carefully. If there are no disposal instructions, that’s probably a sign to use the garbage can.”
For example, the handles of bamboo toothbrushes are compostable but the nylon bristles are not. Meanwhile, plastic-looking compostable cups or flatware must be Biodegradable Products Institute or Compost Manufacturing Alliance certified compostable.
“Apple cores, banana peels, chicken bones and even greasy pizza boxes are easier,” Golkin said. “Toss them in the green cart.”
Since the initiative launched, he said, more than 100 cubic yards of finished compost has returned to Arlington for residents to pick up — similar to the county’s free mulch program. More will be available “in the next few weeks,” with details forthcoming on DES’s social media account.
The county’s curbside pickup is not an option for apartment dwellers, but officials encourage residents to discuss food scrap collection with their apartment or condo management.
For now, they can drop off their food scraps at the Trades Center in Shirlington, at local farmers markets and at the MOM’s Organic Market near Courthouse.
Based on current waste stream data, staff and a public advisory committee are working on a new, state-mandated Solid Waste Management Plan for the county, to be released in 2024, he said.
An opinion column railing against gas-powered leaf blowers apparently struck a nerve: it is now ARLnow’s most-read article of the year.
Opponents of the blowers have two primary complaints: the noise and the fumes.
In her opinion piece, Jane Green wrote:
The region is waking up to these noxious machines. The Arlington County Board took an important step on Tuesday, Nov. 16, when it appropriated funds from the American Rescue Plan Act to replace gas-powered landscape equipment with other options.
Leaf blowers are a drain on quality of life. Their piercing noise shatters concentration or the enjoyment of the outdoors. They spew noxious gas into the air. They can destroy insect habitats. But as a collective, we have come to expect leaf-free surfaces wherever we go. The pressure to maintain this appearance means that leaf blowers are ubiquitous.
But a movement against it is underway. I was visiting the Courthouse farmers market a few weeks ago and saw a table from Quiet Clean NOVA, a group petitioning the Virginia legislature for the local authority to regulate gas-powered yard equipment.
Across the river, D.C. is poised to ban gas-powered blowers after ringing in the new year.
… as the D.C. government gets ready to implement a ban on the use or sale of gas-powered leaf blowers at the start of 2022, this will be the final fall that the particular noise and fumes from the equipment will exist without the potential for a $500 fine. The city just introduced a rebate program to help people switch from gas-powered blowers to electric alternatives.
“Ten years from now, people will marvel that these things were ever used,” says James Fallows, a longtime D.C. resident who helped advocate for the ban. He has also written about his efforts in The Atlantic.
But gas-powered blowers also have their supporters. Many of those commenting on Green’s column were landscape workers — those hired by homeowners to clear leaves from their yards. The suggestion that other ways of clearing leaves can be just as effective doesn’t take into account the real-world experience of such workers, they wrote.
Even electric blowers, a potential option should the fossil fuel-powered versions be verboten, are not practical for many landscaping crews, some wrote.
What do you think? Should the Virginia legislature give Arlington the ability to ban gas-powered blowers, should the county do so?
Still have lots of leaves in your yard? You’ll get one more chance to rake (or blow) them to the curb and have them vacuumed up by the county.
Arlington is starting its second vacuum leaf collection pass this week, perhaps as soon as today, according to the initial collection schedule.
Neighborhoods that are set to get a second visit from the vacuum truck over the next few days include Alcova Heights, Arlington Mill, Arlington View, Ballston-Virginia Square, Boulevard Manor, Clarendon/Court House, Colonial Village, Columbia Heights, Dominion Hills, Forest Glen, Foxcroft Heights, Glencarlyn, John M. Langston, Long Branch Creek, Green Valley, North Highlands, North Rosslyn, Radnor/Ft. Myer Heights and Waycroft-Woodlawn.
Vacuum collection is scheduled to wrap up on Dec. 16.
Vacuum Leaf Collection Starts Today — “The county’s first pass is scheduled to kick off on Monday, Nov. 8 and will likely run through late November. The second pass will likely run through Friday, Dec. 17, according to a new fall leaf collection brochure.” [ARLnow]
Metro Woes Continue — “Metro’s limited train service will continue for the rest of November, officials said Friday, as the transit agency begins tests that it hopes will allow for the reinstatement of more than half of its fleet… Metro is pulling all of its available cars out of storage to help shorten waits, including 32 recently pulled from its Shady Grove yard. Waits between trains are about 15 minutes on the Red Line, 20 minutes on the Green Line and 30 minutes on the Orange, Blue and Silver lines, Metro said.” [Washington Post]
YHS Field Hockey Triumphs — “What already was an outstanding season for the Yorktown Patriots became the best in program history when the girls field hockey team won a region championship for the first time. Yorktown (19-1) captured the 6D North Region tournament with a 3-0 record, blanking the host and defending champion Madison Warhawks, 1-0, in the Nov. 3 title match of the high-school competition.” [Sun Gazette]
Speedy Campaign Sign Removals — “Good news on the campaign-sign-clearing front — it looks like most campaigns and political organizations have decided to remove their signage from medians far sooner than the rules allow. Arlington Democrats estimate they removed 80% of signage from medians on Wednesday, the day after voting took place. And a spot check across the community shows Republicans and independents were getting large chunks of their signs down, too, even though under law they have a week to do so.” [Sun Gazette]
It’s Monday — It will be sunny and warmer today, with a high near 66. Sunrise at 6:43 a.m. and sunset at 5 p.m. Tomorrow will be sunny, with a high near 69. [Weather.gov]
(Updated at noon) Today’s strong winds are likely to bring down lots of leaves across the area, but Arlington County is not set to start its vacuum leaf collection rounds for another two weeks.
The county’s first pass is scheduled to kick off on Monday, Nov. 8 and will likely run through late November. The second pass will likely run through Friday, Dec. 17, according to a new fall leaf collection brochure.
The county website has a full leaf collection schedule sorted by neighborhood, but has not yet been updated for 2021, a spokesman told ARLnow after initial publication of this article.
“The Solid Waste Bureau is still fine-tuning this year’s based on forecasts, temperatures and zones,” said Dept. of Environmental Services spokesman Peter Golkin.
Even then, the schedule is a bit fluid based on weather and other factors, the county’s website notes, adding that “you may see additional leaf vacuum trucks in your neighborhood between passes for clean up activities.”
Neighboring Falls Church, by comparison, is staring its leaf collection service this week, making 3-4 passes around city neighborhoods through early January.
The good news for Arlington is that with peak fall foliage delayed this year in the immediate D.C. area due to warmer-than-average weather, many trees still have plenty of green leaves. That should result in smaller curbside leaf piles before vacuum collection starts.
For residents those who have leaves that need to be collected now, and which don’t fit in the green organics bin, Arlington County started offering free paper leaf bags for the season as of Monday, Golkin said.
Restaurants Get Ready for Winter — “On November 6, TTT’s expansive rooftop bar unveiled a permanent structure with a retractable roof and sliding glass walls that can be heated when the air is chilly. Iricanin hopes the addition will keep the rooftop in use during the winter months. The new structure can seat up to 60 diners with social distancing. Ambar, meanwhile, is poised to open a winter garden in its rear parking lot with a similar heated structure that can accommodate 60 to 70 guests, pending final approval from the county. ” [Arlington Magazine]
Leaf Collection Update — The second pass for Arlington County’s vacuum leaf collection is set to begin Saturday and run through Dec. 19. [Arlington County]
New YouTube Channel for 55+ Programs — “The Office of 55+ Programs at the Arlington Department of Parks and Recreation has launched a YouTube channel offering local presentations on everything from fitness to cooking to technology. In addition, members of the 55+ Programs staff host a bimonthly talk show on the channel.” [InsideNova]
Arlington’s Oldest House — “The Ball-Sellers House on Third Street South in Arlington is the oldest building in Arlington County, Va. It was built in the 1750s by farmer John Ball. Later, three generations of the Carlin family owned the house, helping save it from destruction. Today, it is owned by the Arlington Historical Society.” [Washington Post]
Library Offering Book Bundles for Kids — “The Arlington library system is offering ‘book bundles’ for young readers, part of the library system’s outreach effort as its branches remain shuttered. Bundles of 10 picture books or 10- early-reader books are available for pickup at Central Library during the hours of holds-pickup, with a limit of one per library card.” [InsideNova]
Grant to Fund Grocery Gift Cards — “A half-million-dollar grant to… Virginia Hospital Center will help struggling families with $1,200 in grocery store gift cards over the next six months. Health clinics and pediatric units on the front lines of the pandemic are finding a side-effect of the economic crisis: food insecurity and hungry children.” [WJLA]
If your yard is covered in leaves and you’re not planning to bag them up, you’ll have to wait another couple of weeks for vacuum leaf collection to begin.
Arlington County is conducting neighborhood-by-neighborhood vacuum leaf collection from Monday, Nov. 9 to Monday, Dec. 21 this year. For some North Arlington neighborhoods, the first pass won’t happen until the week of Thanksgiving.
The schedule, which was released by the county this week, is below.
The county collects bagged leaves, as well as leaves in the green organics cart, year round. But the mass collection via vacuum trucks only happens well into the fall, over the course of two passes in five designated zones.
For those who have pumpkins to dispose, meanwhile, a special collection event for pumpkins — as well as inert materials — will be held on Saturday, Nov. 7.
More on this year’s leaf collection from Arlington County:
The County collects and recycles your leaves through vacuum trucks, biodegradable bags and in your green organics cart. Please be sure to drive safely around County vehicles. Stay aware as there may be crews servicing the immediate vicinity around parked County vehicles, as well.
View our fall leaf cart hanger for more information.
Vacuum Collection Schedule
Check our online vacuum schedule to determine when the leaf vacuum will be in your neighborhood. Please note that these dates are subject to change.
Did you know? We collect about 50,000 cubic yards of leaves every year. Long before the first leaf falls, staff analyzes historic data, tree types and density, weather forecasts, state forestry forecasts, and resident feedback to develop the leaf collection schedule. This helps better allocate collection resources and serves neighborhoods when fallen leaves are heaviest.
Vacuum Collection Process
- Crews will complete two passes through each neighborhood between November and December, Monday-Saturday.
- Bright yellow and orange leaf collection signs will be posted in your neighborhood two to three days before crews arrive.
- Plan accordingly to have leaves raked to the curb before scheduled pick-up. If the vacuum collection schedule doesn’t meet your needs, or if you missed the first vacuum pass, residents have the option to bag their leaves for the weekly bag collection or wait for the second vacuum pass.
- If you miss your collection date, leaves should be recycled in biodegradable leaf bags. Dates are subject to change due to weather and other events.
- Vacuum trucks will not collect leaves on Wednesday, November 11th, Veteran’s Day and Thursday, November 26th, Thanksgiving Day.
Leaf Bag Collection
Place leaves in biodegradable bags only. Don’t use plastic bags. Leaf bags are now collected year-round on the same day as your regular trash collection day.
Where to Find Leaf Bags
Biodegradable paper leaf bags are available at most hardware stores. Please use any bags left over from spring yard waste collection. Free bags are also now available at these locations, while supplies last. Note: Some locations are unavailable this year due to COVID-19.
When given a daunting task, like vacuuming up the leaves in front of every home in the county, one might be tempted to try to rush through it as quickly as possible.
But for one of Arlington County’s leaf vacuum crews, helping out residents and getting the job done right is the priority.
On Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, a resident of the Rock Spring neighborhood near Yorktown High School posted on social media that a leaf collection crew was helping an elderly neighbor rake the leaves from her yard to the curb, where they could be vacuumed.
“Hats [off] to these guys,” she said, in a post that scored more than 100 likes on Twitter.
— Notnow (@KathieNotnow) November 29, 2019
The resident, Kathie K., tells ARLnow that there’s even more to the story.
“I went to get coffee… as I was pulling out I noticed someone in a work uniform raking a pile of leaves on my street. He gave me a big wave as I drove by,” she recounts. “When I pulled back into my cul-de-sac he and the truck had made their way around the circle and were now at the end.”
The crew of two were now working in the yard of two older sisters who live together, going above and beyond even what was seen in the photo, Kathie said. They were raking and talking to one of the sisters, as well as a father and son who were out raking and had brought the crew some water.
“The leaf collector that gave me a big wave was in their yard raking leaves. Not just on the curb, he was all the way to her front door raking leaves to the street. She was helping, they were all chatting,” she continued. “I took a picture because the guys were just being kind. They changed my day and I’m sure everyone else who has seen the picture. I thought it was a nice way to start the holiday season.”
Peter Golkin, a spokesman for the Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services, which handles leaf collection and other public works in the county, tells ARLnow that leaf collection crews are not required to help residents rake, but are often happy to help someone in need.
In this case, Golkin says driver Michael Hendricks, a permanent staffer in the Solid Waste Bureau and former Arlington Public Schools bus driver, and veteran seasonal crewperson Anthony Leftwich decided to help out — despite having a schedule to keep as they worked to wrap up the first leaf collection pass around the county by the end of the next day.
Hendricks “hopes someone would do the same for his own grandmother,” Golkin said.
With the second leaf collection pass now underway as of Monday, Hendricks offered some tips for residents.
“Try to keep cars away from the piles and don’t pile near cars to make it an easier reach for the vacuum hose,” he said. Also, Golkin noted, dry leaves can be a potential fire hazard when vehicles with hot catalytic converters park above them.
Leaf collection season is set to end on Dec. 18. That may seem like a relief to the crews, but Golkin said getting out into the residential neighborhoods and interacting with residents is usually a highlight of the season.
“The leaf crews especially enjoy sweeping through neighborhoods on Saturdays because kids are home from school and love watching the truck from a safe distance,” he said.