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If Arlington County collects your yard waste, you can now add food scraps to your green organics cart starting this week.

This collection service, which started on Monday, is now part of the county’s regular weekly trash, recycling and yard waste collection routes. Food scraps and yard waste will be delivered together to a professional composting facility in Prince William County.

“Food scrap collection represents years of planning and organization by County staff and members of the community, guided by the Solid Waste Bureau,” according to the Department of Environmental Services. “The new program makes Arlington one of the first localities in the nation to gather residential food waste as a part of standard curbside services.”

Eligible residents received a small, beige countertop food caddy — which, up until now, some have used as coolers — and a set of compostable bags last month. The county distributed the supplies so folks can store scraps inside and bring filled bags to their green carts.

DES recommends people keep the pail, lined with a compostable bag — available at Target, on Amazon and at grocery stores — on a kitchen counter. Just before one’s weekly trash pickup time, the food scraps should be bagged, put in the green cart and rolled out for collection.

Those who worry about odors or insects can keep the pail or scrap bag in the freezer or refrigerator. Other alternatives include storing scraps in Tupperware or bins with charcoal filters.

Residents can toss a wide range of materials that qualify as “food scraps” into their green carts: from apple and banana peels to meats, bones, coffee grounds and even greasy pizza boxes and used paper napkins. A user’s guide was distributed along with the countertop caddy, and is also posted on the county website.

What goes into the green yard waste carts (via Arlington County)

“The initiative marks another milestone in Arlington’s commitment to sustainability, diverting organic waste from incineration with regular trash,” the county said. “The compost generated will find its way into Arlington parks and community gardens and eventually individual yards, just as residents can pick up and order mulch for delivery from the County.”

Arlington is providing the service as part of its goal to divert 90% of waste from landfills and incinerators by 2038.

The county encourages residents who don’t receive weekly curbside collection to drop off their scraps at the Arlington County Trades Center in Shirlington (2700 S. Taylor Street), the Columbia Pike Farmers Market on Sundays, or MOM’s Organic Market (1901 N. Veitch Street). Residents who don’t get the county’s curbside collection service — which serves mostly single-family homes — can also email [email protected] for tips.

The new food scraps collection has even attracted entrepreneurs who are anticipating a stinky problem that they can solve.

Clarendon-based Bright Bins, a recently-launched waste bin cleaning business, is promoting its service as a way to “keep your bins clean and sanitized — and keep the rodents and pests away.”

“As opposed to using mild soap and a hose, our high-pressure 180-degree steam process sterilizes and deodorizes your organic bin, safeguarding it from attracting unpleasant visitors and ensuring you don’t dread the next time you open it,” said co-owner Ryan Miller.

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(Updated at 3:50 p.m.) Arlington County will start collecting residents’ food scraps on Labor Day.

Residents receiving county curbside collection services — mostly those in single-family homes and townhouses — will be able to toss unused food into their green yard waste bins and bring them to the curb on collection day, starting Monday, Sept. 6. Those scraps will be composted in Prince William County and returned to Arlington as soil.

“This is going to be for everybody who is a part of the household solid waste collection program,” said Erik Grabowsky, the chief of the Solid Waste Bureau of the Department of Environmental Services, during a community forum last week.

Arlington will be the first jurisdiction in Virginia to provide the service to all residential customers, he said.

The initiative is part of the county’s goal to divert 90% of resources from landfills and incinerators by 2038. It is also the last significant program to be implemented from the county’s 2004 solid waste management plan, Grabowsky said.

“There are many good reasons for adding a food scraps collection program,” he said, such as diverting useable waste from landfills and incinerators. Creating and using compost “will build healthier soils and also allow us to pay attention to the amount of food waste we are generating — which may change purchasing habits and may save us money.”

County household waste collection customers should have received a postcard previewing the service change and will soon receive an informational cart hanger, he said. The second of two virtual community forums will be held tomorrow and the county will be delivering “starter kits” with a two-gallon food caddy, 40 compostable bags and educational materials, throughout the month of August.

Acceptable food waste and food scraps include:

  • Vegetables and fruits
  • Meats, including bones, and old meat grease (sopped up with a paper towel)
  • Dairy products and eggshells
  • Breads
  • Coffee grounds, paper coffee liners and tea leaves (but not tea bags)

Residents should still put disposable containers and other products marketed as “compostable” in the trash.

“A lot of the materials have plastic liners,” said Adam Riedel, a county environmental management specialist. “We want to ensure the highest quality product, which means keeping out those contaminants.”

That could change if the federal government issues stricter regulations for creating and marketing disposable products as “compostable,” he said.

Arlington County will deliver these food scrap pails to residents (Courtesy Arlington County)

DES recommends keeping the pail, lined with a compostable bag, on a kitchen counter. Just before one’s weekly trash pickup time the food scraps should be bagged, put in the green cart and rolled out for collection.

Riedel said he keeps his pail on the counter and he notices no odor, but for those who are worried, he suggested keeping the pail or scrap bag in the freezer or refrigerator.

Grabowsky said he does not envision proper disposal requiring much enforcement.

“People generally comply with rules and regulations,” he said. “I don’t think we’re going to have a contamination problem. If we do, we’re going to have to start having more aggressive action.”

The scraps will be converted into nutrient-dense soil at Freestate Farms in nearby Prince William County, per a new agreement approved by the County Board in February. The facility is run via a public-private partnership between Prince William County and the private corporation.

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Arlington County will be sending its yard waste and food scraps to Prince William County.

At Saturday’s County Board meeting, the board approved a new agreement to send organic compost to a new state-of-the-art composting facility in Prince William County.

Until November last year, the county was sending compost to a Loudoun County facility but that facility has since ceased operations.

Back in 2016, Arlington County began year-round residential curbside collection of organic material like grass clippings, leaves, and yard trimmings.

Arlington County provides year-round residential curbside collection of organic material, such as grass clippings, leaves, and yard trimmings. Through the winter — November to March — the material is composted at the Earth Products Recycling Yard (EPRY) at the Arlington County Trades Center in Shirlington.

However, that changes in the spring due to EPRY’s inability to compost grass clippings as well as space limitations related to residents mowing their lawn more often in the spring and summer.

As a result, from April to October the county sends its organic material to a third-party outside of the county for processing.

And starting this year, that material will be going to Freestate Farms in nearby Prince William County. The facility is run via a public-private partnership between Prince William County and the private corporation.

Beyond yard waste, the Prince William County facility also has the ability to compost “mixed organics,” i.e. food waste. County Manager Mark Schwarz’s proposed Fiscal Year 2022 budget includes about $300,000 to add food scraps to the list of items that can be placed in the green organics bin.

If approved, the food scrap collection would begin in September, according to Schwartz’s budget.

In the meantime, the county’s current organics collection is set to start being trucked to Prince William County on April 1. The agreement does come with a price, however.

The Prince William facility is charging more than the Loudoun County facility, from $32 a ton for yard waste to the new rate of $36 a ton. For mixed organics, the rate is even higher, at $38 a ton. The staff report says these rate increases should be “almost or entirely offset” by other savings in the waste collection budget and will not result in Arlington households having to absorb the rate increase.

In fact, according to the proposed budget, there actually would be a slight rate decrease in the solid waste rate for households. Currently, households are paying an annual rate of $319.03. If the budget passes as is, even with the addition of mixed organics collection, residents will pay $318.61.

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Arlington County is turning trash into treasure by growing thousands of pounds of fresh produce for a local food bank using compost from residents.

Last February, Arlington’s Solid Waste Bureau began a pilot program to create compost from residents’ food scraps. Now some of that compost is coming full circle and being used in some of the local gardens that supply fresh produce for Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC).

AFAC is a nonprofit that receives around a million and a half pounds of food donations annually. The goods comes from several sources: grocery stores, private food drives, farmers markets and farms, and gardens around the region, according to spokesman Jeremiah Huston. Part of that comes from its “Plot Against Hunger” program, which cultivates the fresh produce.

AFAC staffer Puwen Lee manages this program, which she helped grow back in 2007 after noticing the food bank distributed frozen vegetables even in the summer months.

“And I thought, ‘This is really strange because I got so many vegetables in my garden,'” she said. After mentioning it to the nonprofit’s leadership, Lee said the director dropped off 600 packs of seeds on her desk and left it up to her.

Since then, Lee, who grew up gardening in Michigan, estimates the program has received over 600,000 pounds of fresh produce and has grown to include gardens from the Arlington Central Library, schools, and senior centers — and now it’s experimenting with using waste from residents themselves.

Trading trash for treasure

The Solid Waste Bureau collects food waste in two green barrels behind a rosebush by its headquarters in the Trades Center in Shirlington. The waste is then dumped into a 10-foot-high, 31-foot-long earth flow composting stem that cooks the materials under a glass roof and generates 33 cubic yards of compost in about two weeks.

When Solid Waste Bureau Chief Erik Grabowsky opens the doors to the machine, the heady smell of wine wafts out, revealing a giant auger slowly whirring through the blackened bed, turning the composting food.

Grabowsky said the final mix is cut with wood chips — something not always ideal for most vegetable gardens. But Grabowksy says it’s an “evolving” mixture that the department will tweak over time and which he plans to test in the department’s own garden next to the machine.

After the wood chips, the mix is shifted through a hulking “trammel screen” and distributed to AFAC and the Department of Parks and Recreation.

On a recent weekday, workers Travis Haddock and Lee Carrig were busy in Bobcats shuffling dirt off the paved plaza Grabowksy says will host the department’s first open house next Saturday, June 8 to show how the recycling system works. Normally, they manage repairs to the auger and the flow of compost in and out of the machine.

(When asked what their favorite part of the job was, they joked it was when the auger “stops in the middle and you got to climb in there.”)

The department’s free June event, called “Rock-and-Recycle,” will run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the department’s lot in the Trades Center and will feature music and food trucks. Attendees will also be able to check out the compost for themselves, as well as the nearby Rock Crusher and Tub Grinder.

From farm to food bank

AFAC is currently experimenting with using the compost for one of its gardens. The nonprofit also makes its own mix using plant scraps and weeds pulled up from the beds.

Near AFAC’s Shirlington headquarters, volunteers run a garden that donates all its yield to the food bank. Boy Scouts originally built the raised beds that now make up 550 square feet of gardening space, and grow lettuce, beets, spinach, green beans, kale, tomatoes, and radishes, on a plot near a water pump station along S. Walter Reed Drive.

Plot Against Hunger manager Lee said the space was originally planned as a “nomadic garden” in 2013, but thanks to the neighboring Fort Barnard Community and the Department of Water and Sewer, it became a permanent fixture on Walter Reed Drive.

Certified Master Gardener Catherine Connor has managed the organic garden for the last three years. She says she’s helped set up the rain barrels and irrigation system that waters the beds in addition to supervising the planting. Now the beds are thick with greens and bumblebees hum between the flowers of the spinach plants that have gone to seed.

“Last year, we had just an incredible growing season,” Lee said. “From the farmers markets alone we picked up something like 90,000 pounds [of food.]”

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Arlington County is asking residents to trash glass, following a vote by the County Board last night.

Board members passed an amendment to the county code allowing the County Manager to delete materials from the list of what Arlington recycles. The move was made to allow County Manager Mark Schwartz to remove glass from the list after officials said it had become too expensive to recycle.

The county says in a press release that those who receive residential trash and recycling pickup service in Arlington should throw away glass in their black trash containers instead of the blue recycling bins. That will make things easier for the county’s recycling processor, which is currently sending glass to landfills.

The new county directive does not apply to those in offices, apartments and other commercial properties, whose waste collection is handled by private contractors.

Alternatively, people can dump their glass at one of two designated drop-off locations — at Quincy Park (N. Quincy Street and Washington Blvd) or the Arlington Trades Center (2700 S. Taylor Street) — which carts it to Fairfax County for an experiment in paving roads with smashed up glass.

“The County anticipates establishing additional drop-off locations to make it more convenient for residents, though no specific sites are yet under consideration,” said the county’s press release. “Glass that customers deposit in their black trash carts will be processed at the Covanta Waste-to-Energy facility in Alexandria where it will be incinerated and turned into electricity.”

The county’s “single-stream” recycling systems often shatter glass, which then mixes up different-colored shards and reduces its value, Arlington’s chief of solid waste Erik Grabowsky previously told ARLnow.

Recouping lost value is also harder than ever because of China’s decision to stop accepting some recycling materials, which led Arlington’s recycling costs to rise from $15.73 per ton to $28.62 per ton in the last six months, according to Grabowksy.

“We do have to come to grips with the fundamental reality that we are living in a fraudulent experience,” said Board Chair Christian Dorsey last night. “Because every time we put glass in our blue containers it’s not doing what we expect that it does. It’s being put in a landfill which is contrary to what we want, and not only that, but it’s costing us more money to do it.”

Grabowsky said that removing glass will lower the county’s overall recycling rate this year by 1 percent.

The good news, he says, is that the current recycling rate is 50.1 percent — a number already exceeding the county’s goal to recycle 47 percent of waste by 2024.

Now Grabowksy and the county want people to think about buying less glass, and finding ways to re-purpose it before throwing it out.

“Ultimately, what we want to do is establish a new glass hierarchy for Arlington county,” he said. In the press release, the county said residents should consider prioritizing the purchase of items in containers made of “recyclable metal or even plastic.”

Mark Schwartz said he hoped to identify three additional location for glass drop-off centers by August, but acknowledged it may take more time adding recycling facilities to neighborhoods “may not be met warmly.”

Grabowsky said that starting next month, that the county will begin notifying people of the change in recycling glass with with digital and mailed letters.

“I didn’t anticipate that this would ever be an issue a few years ago,” Schwartz said. “But the economy and the international relationships we’ve had as the United States have changed in the last two years and some months, for some reason.”

Flickr pool photo by Aaron Webb

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Get ready to start raking in the leaves: the county’s leaf collection starts next Monday (Nov. 12) for some neighborhoods and continues through mid-December.

The vacuum truck will operate Mondays through Saturdays, except for Thanksgiving, and will complete two sweeps on a set neighborhood schedule. The first pass runs from Nov. 12 to Dec. 4. Immediately afterward the second collection pass begins and run until Dec. 20.

Look for yellow signs posted three to seven days ahead of the first pass and then orange signs for the second one. Leaves should be at the curb at the start of the collection window and stay there until they are collected.

Residents can prepare for leaf collection by raking leaves to the curb — and away from storm drains and water meter covers — the weekend before the scheduled collection. The brochure reminds residents to remove stones, branches, litter and other debris from the pile and to reduce fire hazards by not parking cars on leaf piles.

Residents can also recycle leaves by placing them in green organics carts or paper yard bags at the curb by 6 a.m. for pickup on regular trash collection days. The weight cut off is 50 pounds for bags and 200 pounds for carts. The recycled leaves become nutrient-rich mulch that residents can pick up for free either at the Solid Waste Bureau near SHirlington or near Marymount University at 4712 26th Street N.

The county will not collect leaves in plastic bags.

“Yard trimmings collected in Arlington County are composted and used to make top soil for use in county projects. Plastic bags and other inorganic materials contaminate the end product,” a blurb on a county brochure reads.

The county’s free bag distribution started last week (Oct. 29) and runs until Jan. 18 while supplies last at the following locations:

  • Aurora Hills Community Center, 735 18th Street S., 703-228-5715
  • Courthouse Plaza, 2100 Clarendon Blvd, 703-228-3000
  • Lee Community Center, 5722 Lee Hwy, 703-228-0552
  • Long Branch Nature Center, 625 S. Carlin Springs Road, 703-228-6535
  • Madison Community Center, 3829 N. Stafford Street, 703-228-5310
  • Solid Waste Bureau, 4300 29th Street S., 703-228-6570
  • Thomas Jefferson Community Center, 3501 2nd Street S., 703-228-5920

Flickr pool photo via wolfkann

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It’s the season for spring cleaning, and Arlington’s street sweeping service is set to resume today (Monday).

The sweeping service runs from April through October in an effort to “reduce stormwater pollution in our local streams, the Potomac River, and the Chesapeake Bay,” according to an Arlington County Solid Waste Bureau press release.

The street sweeping schedule is zoned by neighborhood, and begins April 9. The sweeping will run each day in the designated civic associations from about 7:30 a.m.-3 p.m.

For “more effective sweeping” the County is asking residents to move their cars out of the road — “to a driveway, garage or non-sweeping street” — during cleaning, but parking fines will not be issued.

Here’s the schedule for April 9-23.

  • Monday, April 9
    Zone 1 – Alcova Heights, Ashton Heights, Arlington Heights, Foxcroft Heights, Arlington View, Penrose
  • Tuesday, April 10
    Zone 2 – Claremont, Douglas Park, Columbia Forest, Fairlington
  • Wednesday, April 11
    Zone 3 – East Falls Church, Yorktown, Williamsburg
  • Thursday, April 12
    Zone 4 – Arlingwood, Old Glebe, Chain Bridge, Rock Spring, Country Club Hills/Gulf Branch, Stafford-Albemarle-Glebe
  • Friday, April 13
    Zone 5 – Bellevue Forest, North Highlands, Donaldson Run, Rivercrest, Dover Crystal, Riverwood, Maywood, Woodmont
  • Monday, April 16
    Zone 6 – Arlington Ridge/Forest Hills, Aurora Highlands, Columbia Heights, Long Branch Creek, Nauck
  • Tuesday, April 17
    Zone 7 – Clarendon, Courthouse, Colonial Village, Lyon Park, Lyon Village, North Rosslyn, Radnor/Fort Myer Heights
  • Wednesday, April 18
    Zone 8 – Arlington Forest, Barcroft, Buckingham, Columbia Heights West/ Arlington Mill, Forest Glen, Glencarlyn
  • Thursday, April 19
    Zone 9 – Ballston, Virginia Square, Cherrydale, Cherry Valley Nature Area, Glebewood, Old Dominion, Waycroft-Woodlawn, Waverly Hills
  • Friday, April 20
    Zone 10 – Highland Park, Overlee Knolls, John M. Langston, Leeway Overlee, Madison Manor, Tara-Leeway Heights, Westover Village
  • Monday, April 23
    Zone 11 – Bluemont, Boulevard Manor, Dominion Hills
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For those already looking forward to the end of the holidays, Arlington County’s Christmas tree collection program begins in early January.

The program goes through the first two weeks in January, from January 2-12.

“Residents are reminded to place the tree on the curb no later than 6 a.m. on your regular trash collection day and to remove all decorations, nails, stands and plastic bags,” a blurb on the program reads. “The trees are later ground into wood mulch for garden use.”

Anyone who does not have a curbside recycling service can bring their Christmas trees to the Solid Waste Bureau during the collection season.

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Get the rakes at the ready: Arlington County’s leaf collection program begins today.

Leaf collection starts today (November 13) for some neighborhoods, with the first pass through scheduled to run through December 5.

The trucks will operate Monday through Saturday, except for Thanksgiving, on a set neighborhood schedule.

To prepare for the vacuum collection, residents are asked to rake leaves to the curb but away from storm drains, and to remove stones, litter and other debris from the piles.

Residents are reminded to only report their street has been missed if leaves haven’t been collected after it’s been labeled completed, by calling 703-228-6570.

And for those looking beyond the holiday season, Arlington’s Christmas tree collection program is set for the first two weeks in January, from January 2-12.

“Residents are reminded to place the tree on the curb no later than 6 a.m. on your regular trash collection day and to remove all decorations, nails, stands and plastic bags,” a blurb on the program reads. “The trees are later ground into wood mulch for garden use.”

Anyone who does not have a curbside recycling service can bring their Christmas trees to the Solid Waste Bureau during the collection season.

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With the candy collected, the monsters mashed and the ghouls gone, Arlingtonians are anticipating trash day so that Halloween haunts us no longer.

This year, however, there is an option for getting rid of one Halloween staple in a decidedly un-scary, eco-friendly way: Arlington residents can drop off their pumpkins for composting on Saturday.

Arlington County’s Solid Waste Bureau will be accepting pumpkins for composting as part of its free monthly services on Saturday, November 4 at the Earth Products Recycling Yard (4300 29th Street S.) from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

The service is for county residents only, not businesses or other commercial establishments. Anyone wanting to drop off their pumpkin must remove any decorations, candles or paint beforehand.

Residents can also have up to two boxes of paper shredded, including checks and checkbooks, and can drop off the following inert materials:

  • Asphalt
  • Ceramic tile
  • Concrete
  • Earth
  • Masonry block
  • Rock
  • Sand

Only a small pickup truck load or three cubic yards of material can be accepted. Brush material is not accepted.

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The leaves are falling, and the county is coming to take them away.

Leaf collection bags (photo via Arlington County website)Arlington County’s leaf collection program is scheduled to start next week, eventually offering two ways for locals to rid their yards of leaves.

“We provide residents of the county opportunities to get rid of their leaves in an environmentally responsible way,” Solid Waste Bureau Chief Erik Grabowsky said in an informational video about the program (above).

Leaf bag collection begins on Monday. The county will collect full, biodegradable paper leaf bags the day after regular trash collection. The collection runs every weekday from Nov. 2 through Jan. 8, including all holidays except for Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

These biodegradable bags can be reused from last spring’s waste collection, purchased at hardware stores, or picked up from one of the following locations, while supplies last:

  • Aurora Hills Community Center, 735 18th St. S.
  • Courthouse Plaza Information Desk, 2100 Clarendon Blvd.
  • Lee Community Center & Park, 5722 Lee Highway
  • Long Branch Nature Center, 625 S. Carlin Springs Rd.
  • Lubber Run Community Center, 300 N. Park Dr.
  • Madison Community Center & Park, 3829 N. Stafford St.
  • Solid Waste Bureau, 4300 29th St. S.
  • Thomas Jefferson Community Center, 3501 2nd St. S.

Vacuum leaf collection will begin the following week on Nov. 9, running every Monday through Saturday until Dec. 17, excluding Thanksgiving. Residents are asked to rake leaves into piles along the curb, making sure the pile only has leaves in it and is clear of cars and storm sewers.

The vacuum will make two passes in each neighborhood, scheduled based on when the leaves in each area will fall.

Leaf Falling Predictions (via DES)“We did an analysis of the types of trees in the county [because] the leaves from various types of trees will fall at different times,” Grabowsky explained. “We’ve tweaked the schedule a little bit so we think we’ve actually now optimized our collection program for vacuuming. We’re hoping this year is as successful as last year.”

Part of ensuring this success is giving at least one weekend’s notice before a vacuum collection. Yellow signs around a neighborhood will indicate the vacuum’s first pass, and orange signs will indicate the second.

There’s also a tentative vacuum schedule, an interactive progress map and a Listserv for email updates about which neighborhoods are next on the schedule.

“We try to be thorough and diligent to make sure we don’t miss anybody,” Grabowsky added.

More information about how to prepare for leaf collection is available on the county’s website.

Photo via DES

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