Arlington, VA

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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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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Arlington County is now offering free paper shredding to residents on the first Saturday of every month.

Since holiday weekends are excluded, July’s paper shredding event will take place this Saturday. Residents — not businesses — can take their sensitive documents to the county’s Solid Waste Bureau (4300 29th Street S.) to be shredded, for free, from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

“A County employee will process the materials while you observe,” according to the Arlington County web site. “100% of shredded material is recycled.”

Residents are limited to two boxes or paper bags of documents each month. Stapled and paper-clipped documents are okay, as are checkbooks, but magazines, catalogs, binders, phone books and credit cards are prohibited.

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It’s sort of like the “Adopt-a-Highway” program, but without the corresponding road signs.

Arlington has launched an “Adopt-a-Street” program that allows civic-minded residents and organizations to commit to picking up litter and debris along a road of their choosing. After signing up, volunteers receive safety and cleaning supplies, a five gallon collection bucket and scheduled pickups of collected debris.

Adopters are asked to perform their cleaning duties on a quarterly or as-needed basis, with a minimum one year commitment.

The program, which is run by the county’s Solid Waste Bureau, is intended to reduce storm water pollution in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed with minimal cost to taxpayers. Supplies for the program have been purchased through sponsorships, the county says.

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