Commentary, Local Commentary

A Penny for Your Thoughts: News of Greater Falls Church

We talk a lot these days about workers on the “front lines” – health care providers, nursing home aides, first responders, and many others whose jobs do not lend themselves to working remotely. These “front lines” are a lot different than the front-line workers the nation honors this weekend, and on Monday. At least, the Memorial Day honorees could see and hear the enemy they were fighting. Flashes from rifle barrels and gun turrets, the smell of gunpowder and other ammunition, the whistling noise of bullets flying overhead – all created the cacophony of traditional warfare. The enemy today is colorless, odorless, and stealthy – until its victims start having fever and the severe respiratory complications that indicate Covid-19 infection.

Social distancing doesn’t lend itself to traditional observances, but flying an American flag (if you have one) on Monday is an appropriate way to remember those who have served, and fallen, in support of our nation.

Good news for county trash collection customers: yard waste pickup, which was suspended temporarily in late March, will resume next week. Timing of the suspension of the service was challenging, since the combination of springtime, good weather, and people working from home, generated a lot of yard waste, and Covid-19 precautions reduced the number of available solid waste workers. As noted last week, the purple dumpster for glass recycling was reinstalled at the Mason District Governmental Center. The normal heavy usage appears to have returned, as I hear the “clink, clink, clink” of glass when traversing the parking lot to my office.

Using plastic bags for yard waste collection is bad for the environment, and many local jurisdictions, including Fairfax County, are transitioning from plastic to paper bags or reusable solid containers. Surveys show that about 30 percent of Fairfax County residents already use paper bags for yard waste, so the transition has started already. However, for those accustomed to using rolls of plastic bags when cleaning up the yard, the change may be challenging. Plastic bags are easy to use and store, and hold up well regardless of weather conditions. Paper bags are more costly, don’t seem to hold as much waste and, although manufacturers say they are designed to get wet without falling apart, a good Virginia downpour might prove otherwise.

Being good stewards of the environment means making changes to common practices of the past, and that can be difficult. But think of what we already are doing differently – reducing the use of lawn fertilizers, increasing recycling, driving more fuel-efficient vehicles, changing to LED and other non-incandescent lightbulbs. Those changes took time, but are commonplace now. Plastic pollution is a big problem for the natural environment, and not just the number of single-use plastic bags we see caught in trees and along roadways. When yard waste in plastic bags is processed into compost by industrial facilities, small pieces of shredded plastic end up in the organic materials produced, and even the best screening materials won’t remove all the plastic shreds. A constituent suggested that simply cutting open the plastic bags and dumping the contents into the processor would solve the problem, but that would require cutting open tens of millions of plastic bags each year, which is unrealistic. Paper bags used for yard waste shred easily in the composting process, and the shreds are designed to biodegrade rapidly. The yard waste collection season runs from March through December, and the transition from plastic bags to paper also applies to private collection companies operating in the county. During this transition period, use of paper bags for yard waste is encouraged; a Fairfax County ordinance change, including enforcement provisions, may be considered by the Board of Supervisors at a later date.