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FairfaxNewsTrash talk: Supervisors set goals for gov't waste reduction

Trash talk: Supervisors set goals for gov’t waste reduction

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Fairfax County supervisors adopted a plan Nov. 9 to reduce sharply by 2030 the amount of trash and recyclables produced each year by the county government and school system.

The Zero Waste Plan features 24 priority strategies and an implementation structure aimed at eliminating waste before it starts by reducing consumption and systematically reusing products and materials.

Within nine years, county officials aim to divert 90 percent of waste from landfills and incinerators and lower the county’s total waste stream – including trash, recycling and compost – by 25 percent, compared with 2018 levels.

The plan would “require significant financial investments,” including initial five coordinating positions at the county level and one such employee for the school system, officials said.


The proposal would take a “whole life cycle” approach centered around four Rs: reach out to the public, reduce waste, and reuse and recycle materials.

Some of the plan’s strategies include education and incentives for staff; more student-engagement opportunities; establishment of a Zero Waste Team and a sustainable-purchasing program; success measurement via waste audits, reporting and facility assessments; and the launch of a reusable-packaging program.

Other ideas call for the expansion of the Edible Food Rescue and Donation Program; standardized and increased waste receptacles and signage; implementation of reusable food-service ware; a policy banning single-use plastics; and installation of more bottle-filling stations and hand dryers.

The plan’s genesis was in late 2018, when supervisors asked county staff to work with Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) officials to find potential areas where they could work jointly on environmental issues.

The county created a Joint Environmental Task Force with two county supervisors, two School Board members and nine people from the community. The group’s Waste Management and Recycling Subcommittee then set a “Zero Waste by 2030” goal, which the supervisors this July incorporated into the county’s Operational Energy Strategy.

Staff with the county’s Solid Waste Management Program, Department of Procurement and Material Management, Facilities Management Department and Park Authority and the school system’s Office of Facilities Management and Get2Green environmental stewardship program helped formulate the zero-waste goal.

The plan is intended to be a flexible tool for county departments and the Board of Supervisors to implement, said Nathalie Owen of the county’s Department of Procurement and Material Management.

Weekly solid-waste removal and single-stream recycling services are used by about 13,000 county staff members at 252 facilities, as well as by 14 million people who visit the county’s park’s annually. The same services also are needed by approximately 180,000 FCPS students and 25,000 staff members at 207 facilities, including 198 schools, officials said.

The county government and FCPS now divert 15 and 18.5 percent, respectively, of material from the trash, but potentially could increase those respective figures to 57 and 71 percent, officials said.

The Zero Waste Plan “would be a milestone,” said Supervisor Daniel Storck (D-Mount Vernon), “and it’s not going to happen because we approve it today, but because we have a whole bunch of work between now and then to get it done.”

Storck said he hoped the county could get full buy-in from the School Board in pursuing the plan.

“We are really, truly trying to create a circular economy,” Storck said. “That’s when we know we’ll be able to sustain ourselves and sustain this world.”

The plan’s core is waste prevention, said Supervisor Penelope Gross (D-Mason).

“Aspirational [goals are] one thing. Action is another,” she said. “This sets our template for that.”

The county’s recently approved 5-cent-per-bag tax on disposable plastic bags, which takes effect Jan. 1 next year, is right in line with that objective, Gross said.

“Most plastic bags end up as waste that people can see all along their roadways and so forth,” she said.

Supervisor John Foust (D-Dranesville) said he was concerned about the plan’s fiscal impact, citing five suggested “initial” coordinating positions that would need to be filled. Supervisors would have to consider those new positions as a future budgetary matter.

“Probably it’s worth every penny, but is there a more efficient and effective way to do it than [to] keep just adding all of this staff?” asked Foust, who added, “We can’t just keep seeing fiscal impacts that add staff, that’s all.”

Supervisor Patrick Herrity (R-Springfield), the only board member to vote against the plan, said he was concerned about its “significant” costs and lack of balance concerning public health and impact on residents.

Technological solutions might solve some of the waste problems while reducing the burden on the county’s staff and taxpayers, he said.

FCPS has not moved forward on the plan yet because of its costs, which would have to come out of the fixed amount of the school system’s budget, Herrity said. He also was skeptical about the push for more hand dryers, saying such equipment reduced waste, but posed public-health risks.

“You won’t find one in a hospital anywhere because it blows germs around,” he said.

Citing her youthful experience as a junior ranger at Roosevelt Island Park, Supervisor Dalia Palchik (D-Providence) said a fifth “R” for the verb refuse, as in to decline superfluous packaging, should be added to the plan.

“There’s no way that just recycling is ever going to get us to net zero,” she said.

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