Of Trash and Truckers

by Bill Tracy

Trouble, trouble, trouble.  We got trouble in River City.

“River City” in this case denotes certain municipalities in Northern Virginia, Georgia, and Colorado serviced for trash disposal by Manassas-based American Disposal Services (ADS). After years of exemplary service, ADS has seemingly lost the ability to pick up trash on a reliable basis. Fairfax County and Home Owners Associations are scrambling to review options to hold ADS accountable for its contractual obligations. My HOA has a temporary agreement with ADS to reduce trash pick-ups and change to a less demanding pick-up schedule.

ADS insists this is not their problem. Quoting Supervisor John Cook (Fairfax),  American blames a nationwide problem recruiting employees to drive its trucks. On a national level, the National Trucking Association reports, the U.S. was short approximately 48,000 truck drivers in 2015. An estimated 890,000 new hires will be needed over the next decade, with the potential for a shortage of 175,000 drivers in 2024 if the trend continues.

Meanwhile, it turns out that American Disposal Services is, paradoxically, not really American anymore.  According to the Washington Business Journal,  Waste Connections,  a Canadian company has recently purchased American Disposal Services. Waste Connections is actually the third largest trash collection company in North America.

For reasons unknown, Waste Connections is apparently more impacted by the trucker shortage than other companies. Given the lack of any coherent communications from the company, rumors are circulating of hiring-policy changes. But elected officials assure us that the truck driver shortage is indeed real, and it is impacting other trash collection companies in NoVA.

While we await for a clearer trash collection picture to emerge, BR readers can ponder the impact of the apparent trucker shortage on Virginia’s plans (e.g. to relocate megatons of coal ash) as well as proposed national infrastructure improvement plans.

Bill Tracy, a retired engineer, lives in Northern Virginia.

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7 responses to “Of Trash and Truckers”

  1. Those self-driving cars and trucks can’t come too soon!

    Just one problem. Can the self-driving trucks pick up trash cans, too?

    1. Steve Haner Avatar
      Steve Haner

      With the right kind of sensors on the IOT cans, the robot arms will do just fine…..

      Man this takes me back to the battles my old man, when he was a city manager, sparked with his crazy ideas that people had to actually roll their cans to the street with the handle in the correct position…It was true then, and may still be true today, that no other job had more injuries and workers comp claims than sanitation worker.

      Of course, he had some Canadian ancestors, uncles and cousins! That explains it.

  2. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    I’m an American Disposal customer. Generally, the Company has provided decent service. The Company has regularly raised rates over the years but is still reasonably priced. I get regular communications about its workforce problems.

    When there is a shortage of an input, economic teaches that the consumer (here AD) needs to pay more for that input or find substitutes. I suspect the Company has a target return on investment and can’t pay the higher wages to get qualified drivers, keep its market share and earn the desired return on investment. Short of self-driving trash trucks, the Company needs to pay more for labor and probably accept a lower profit margin. But isn’t that what capitalism and free markets are all about? Sometimes we don’t make as much profit as we like.

    1. TBill Avatar

      Strictly rumor at this point, but one speculation was a tighter drug test requirement is part of what could be making in harder to get drivers. Safety is of course extremely important in the trash business (due to less than stellar safety record). They ought to just tell us if that is the issue. But one could envision that drug test requirement might be an issue in America.

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    Well this is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of who takes care of urban dwellers waste.

    Trash trucks with robotic arms are now fairly common – just need one guy to drive that truck and that could be replaced with an autonomous driver but what happens to the waste the truck holds? Same question for sewage. Where does this stuff go and who pays for it – and are they paying enough for it?

    Rural Va takes the trash and the sewage sludge – for cheap – right now.

    we whine about the land dedicated for solar panels but at the end of the day – the land required for household waste, sewage sludge and coal ash – all needed to serve the needs of urban dwellers is as real an issue as who picks up the trash.

    Turns out that China and other countries don’t want our “recyclables” either so they are essentially becoming just another type of trash going to the landfills…

    If we passed a law saying that ALL waste (household and sewage sludge) from NoVa had to be kept in NoVa (no more Rova subsidies) – what would happen?

    1. TBill Avatar

      American apparently has a start-of-the-art sorting/recycling facility in Manassas, that many elected officials and public have toured. I am not clear if their methods enable less reliance on export of mixed plastics. Interesting video of the sorting process on their web page. They take recyclables from as far away as near Richmond, they say.

    2. Acbar Avatar

      So, you’re wondering what if, whatever happens in NoVa stays in Nova? “Every valley will be lifted up, and every mountain and hill will be lowered; the rough ground will become level, and the mountain ridges made a plain.” Isaiah!

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