Trash collectors in Fairfax County will not pick up leaves, grass clippings, and other yard waste stored in plastic bags when the collection season begins on Monday (Mar. 1).
After holding a public hearing, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted 9-1 on Tuesday (Feb. 23) to officially prohibit the use of plastic bags for yard waste by amending its Solid Waste Management Ordinance, a move that supporters say is necessary to reduce pollution and make the county more environmentally friendly.
“To reverse climate catastrophe, each of us must make many small and large steps,” Faith Alliance for Climate SolutionsBoard Chair Eric Goplerud said when testifying at the public hearing. “Banning plastic bags to contain yard waste is a step that the Board of Supervisors can take to lead our community to care for our common home, the Earth.”
Fairfax County began transitioning away from using plastic bags for yard waste last year, encouraging residents to use compostable paper bags or reusable containers instead.
In an update to the board’s environmental committee on Oct. 27, county staff reported that about 51% of homes surveyed during the 2020 yard waste season were still utilizing plastic bags, but Fairfax County Director of Engineering and Environmental Compliance Eric Forbes says he is “hopeful and confident” that the bags can be eliminated after the past year of education and outreach.
Now that the ban has been approved, the county’s solid waste management program is encouraging private trash and recycling collection companies to notify their customers that waste in plastic bags will no longer be collected.
“We do not anticipate a hundred percent success rate in the beginning, but we will continue our outreach and collaboration with industry to help our community to reach compliance with the new requirements,” Forbes said.
Forbes acknowledged that compostable paper bags are slightly more expensive to buy than plastic bags. County staff found that paper bags designed to carry yard waste cost about 50 cents per bag, whereas plastic bags cost around 30 cents.
Yet, the overall cost of utilizing plastic may be greater, since the material is difficult to extract and can damage equipment during the composting process, pushing up costs for collectors and, by extension, customers, Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay says.
While paper bags are preferable to plastic, Forbes noted that residents can avoid the costs of yard waste removal altogether by managing it on-site with backyard composting or allowing grass clippings to decompose on their lawn, a practice known as grasscycling.
McKay says he got 75 emails on the proposed ban, with an even split between supporters and opponents, but he believes it is time for Fairfax County to join the rest of the D.C. region, where some jurisdictions have required paper bags or reusable containers for more than a decade.
“We ultimately just have to decide whether we think this is a good idea or not,” McKay said. “…I think clearly, based on the testimony that we’ve heard today, based on where everyone around the region is, and frankly, based on where the science is, this is something that we must do now to help with our environmental challenges.”
Photo via Fairfax County Government
Fairfax County is considering adopting an ordinance banning the use of plastic bags for yard waste and instead encouraging residents to transition toward greener alternatives.
Presented to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors during its environmental committee meeting on Tuesday (Oct. 27), the proposed ordinance states:
Yard waste shall be set out in paper yard waste bags, reusable containers, other storage devices as approved by the Director, or bundled with string as instructed by the collection provider and shall not weigh more than fifty pounds. Yard waste shall not be placed in plastic bags.
The Board of Supervisors voted on Feb. 25 to begin phasing out the use of plastic bags by both customers of private companies contracted to collect yard waste and residents in the county’s solid waste collection areas.
County staff with the Solid Waste Management Program worked with community and private haulers to encourage customers to use compostable paper bags or reusable containers instead for this year’s yard waste season, which began in March and ends in December.
A survey of more than 5,500 homes in Fairfax County found that plastic bags were still utilized in 51% of yard waste set outs in the evaluated Census tracts. 31% of set outs were done with reusable containers, 11% with plastic bags, 6% as an uncontained yard pile, and 1% with compostable paper bags.
“It’s been a transition yard waste season, essentially, to help homeowners, and people that are generating yard waste that have properties get used to not being able to use plastic,” Fairfax County director of engineering and environmental compliance Eric Forbes said. “We didn’t have a ban. This yard waste season is really a transition year.”
Seven other jurisdictions in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area already discourage or prohibit the use of plastic bags for yard waste collection. Loudoun County, for example, has required paper bags or reusable containers since 2002.
Fairfax County’s current ordinance regulating yard waste collection only dictates that it be “set out in bags, reusable containers, or in piles as instructed by the company which will be collecting them.”
Fairfax County staff anticipate formally requesting a public hearing on the proposal to amend and readopt the ordinance in January 2021, with an actual hearing expected to take place in February. If everything goes according to schedule, the new ordinance will be implemented in March in time for the next yard waste season.
“In March of 2021, as long as the ordinance change is adopted, implementation of the new ordinance will begin, basically banning plastic bags from the yard waste recycling stream,” Forbes said.
Forbes says homeowners should prepare their yard waste first by grasscycling, then composting if they have enough space, and finally compiling the waste in a reusable container or paper bag for curbside collection.
“Grasscycling is actually cutting the grass back into the lawn or mulching your leaves back in the lawn,” Forbes said. “And then backyard composting would be the next best alternative for those residents that have the space.”
If neither grasscycling or composting is an option, yard waste can be placed in reusable containers or paper yard waste bags for curbside collection, which are available at the big box stores like Home Depot, Lowe’s or Walmart, he said.
Additional information on yard waste management can be found on Fairfax County’s Public Works and Environmental Services website.
Photo via Fairfax County government