Trash Piles Up in Irvine as Garbage Hauler and Orange County Squabble

November 10, 2020 Updated: November 12, 2020

Uncollected trash continues to mount in Irvine, California, following damage to one of Orange County’s landfills during last month’s Silverado Fire—and the company contracted to haul it away is blaming the county for the setback.

The Frank R. Bowerman Landfill in Irvine, one of the California county’s three landfills, was damaged when parts of it were scorched by the blaze that began on Oct. 26. The landfill was reported to have “significant damage to the environmental control and stormwater infrastructure,” according to a statement released by Orange County Waste & Recycling (OCWR).

The contract between Orange County and Waste Management, the company hired to haul the waste, stipulates that the garbage must be dumped within the county. Due to the closure, garbage trucks and waste haulers must use the county’s other two landfills: the Prima Deshecha Landfill in San Juan Capistrano and the Olinda Alpha Landfill in Brea.

Approximately half of Orange County’s daily trash processing capacity is allocated for the Bowerman Landfill, whose maximum permitted daily refuse is 11,500 tons—and now all of the county’s waste haulers have been forced to use the other two landfills, creating longer driving times and waiting periods at the dumps when the trucks arrive.

The Bowerman Landfill will likely be closed until the end of November due to the damage.

Mary Hartley, a communications specialist for Waste Management of Southern California, told The Epoch Times that a large number of Orange County residents are affected by the closure.

“Currently we estimate that 184,000 residential customers per week are affected by the closure. During this time, we have experienced a backlog to our collection and as there is not yet a set time for the landfill to reopen, we expect this backlog to continue,” Hartley said in an email.

But Orange County Waste & Recycling, which operates the landfills for the county, says adjustments have been made to accommodate the increased traffic at the other two landfills, and continues to demand that Waste Management adhere to the contract.

Epoch Times Photo
A sign shows the entrance to the Frank R. Bowerman Landfill in Irvine, Calif., on Nov. 9, 2020. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
Epoch Times Photo
The Frank R. Bowerman Landfill following the Silverado Fire in Irvine, Calif., on Nov. 9, 2020. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

‘We Are Not Experiencing Any Delays’

Waste Management, the company contracted to remove the garbage, has suggested a solution allowing haulers to dump waste at landfills outside of Orange County. Yet the county refuses to allow this, based on the contractual agreement, according to a statement released by the company.

“Since day one of the fire, Waste Management has made requests to the County of Orange to make exceptions to the Waste Disposal Agreement administered by the County of Orange, which requires all waste to be buried in Orange County. To date, the County of Orange has refused,” the statement said.

“Waste Management has continued to make this request to the County of Orange.”

The statement also notes that it is Waste Management’s goal to collect all waste from residents no later than the next service day from when waste is originally supposed to be collected.

“Waste Management, among other haulers within Orange County, is currently working to mitigate through the challenges associated with the temporary closure of the local landfill, however extended drive times and extended wait times at facilities are affecting some of our collection routes and some customers may experience service delays,” the statement says.

Kevin Gaxiola, a communications specialist for Orange County Waste & Recycling (OCWR), which operates the landfills for the county, told The Epoch Times that the agency has made adjustments to compensate for the landfill’s closure.

“OCWR operates one of the largest landfill systems in the nation. We shifted staff and equipment from the temporarily closed FRB [Bowman Landfill] to our other sites and extended operating hours, which more than accommodate all of Orange County’s disposal needs,” Gaxiola said in an email.

“We have seen no reduction in the number of WM [Waste Management] vehicles across our system and we are not experiencing any delays at either of the operating sites.”

Gaxiola said the other landfills have managed to fill the gap successfully.

“The service enhancements at our operating landfills are working well, and all inbound traffic is being served with normal turnaround times. As of today, we are told by WM that they have caught up with collection on all of its routes,” he said.

Gaxiola said the county will continue to compensate for the shutdown and adjust where necessary.

“While we can do our best to predict waste flows, the collection and hauling business is dynamic. Customers (aka generators) set out whatever they need to dispose of, which the haulers and the landfill system then need to absorb. We monitor waste flows in near-real time and will continue to work with our industry and community partners to adjust where necessary,” he said.

He added that there had not been any significant increased wait times for hauler drop-offs at the other county landfills.

“Each vehicle entering the landfill is logged and weighed in the order it arrives. We have deployed additional staff and expanded hours at the operating sites. In comparison to historical service levels, we have seen little to no increase in average wait times,” he said.

Waste Management’s Hartley said her company is open to the county’s suggestions to improve the situation.

“To limit the impact of the fires on our customers, Waste Management has maintained an open dialogue with the OC Waste & Recycling Department to offer suggestions to address the situation. Waste Management has sought temporary relief from the County’s requirement to send all OC waste to OC landfills so that we might utilize landfills in other counties as a way to protect our ability to provide service to our customers with a minimum of interruptions,” she said.

“At this time, we are still discussing a solution with the County, and gathering information they have requested. Waste Management greatly values our relationship with OC Waste & Recycling Department and the good work they do for County residents. Together, we look forward to identifying and implementing a solution, as soon as possible.”

Follow Drew on Twitter: @DrewVanVoorhis