Too much spring cleaning strains Northern Virginia waste, recycling collections

An excess of collected trash has been reported in Northern Virginia. (Courtesy Northern Virginia Waste Management Board)

With more people staying at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, waste and recycling collections are under strain in all jurisdictions of Northern Virginia.

Many of those people have kept busy spring cleaning, and the result is bigger piles of trash and recyclables on the curb.

“Most of the jurisdictions are reporting a huge increase in trash and major waste generation from our households. Since stay-at-home orders were put in place, some have recorded 30% to 40% increases in the overall waste that is set out,” said environmental planner Debbie Spiliotopoulos, of the Northern Virginia Regional Commission. “It’s a huge burden on the waste collections systems.”

Landfills have seen major increases in residential drop-offs, and the facilities that process recycled materials have had a buildup of work while encountering some labor shortages.

“The recycling is going to something called material recovery facilities, where they are sorting and preparing it for resale and reuse; and there are just a few material recovery facilities in the region that everybody uses,” Spiliotopoulos said.

In addition, the cleaning frenzy “puts waste and recycling collection workers at great safety risk,” the Northern Virginia Regional Commission said in a news release.

The jurisdictions want residents to minimize waste.

“Keep your spring cleaning pile in your basement, attic or garage for now. Keep cleaning if you want, but set it aside for another time,” Spiliotopoulos said.

Here are some tips from the commission:

  • Do not set extra bags outside the cart.
  • Keep your spring-cleaning pile in the basement, attic or garage.
  • Flatten cardboard boxes to create more room in the recycling cart.
  • Grass cycle lawn clippings.
  • Make sure all trash is in a bag, securely closed.
  • No plastic bags in recycling, make sure recyclables are empty, clean and dry. Check with your county, city or town for what to include in recycling.
  • Dispose of used wipes, tissues, and paper towels in trash bags that are tied shut and placed inside trash containers for disposal.
  • Never dispose of disposable wipes, paper towels, rags and similar items in the toilet — these items damage sewer systems to the point of system failures and potential backups.
  • Don’t litter — when outside the home, properly dispose of masks, gloves, wipes and other items in the trash.

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Dick Uliano

Whether anchoring the news inside the Glass-Enclosed Nerve Center or reporting from the scene in Maryland, Virginia or the District, Dick Uliano is always looking for the stories that really impact people's lives.

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