County leaders and their contracted trash collectors are arguing over back-ups for trash trucks dumping the collective waste of the county’s 3.2 million residents at public landfills.

Orange County has three active landfills responsible for processing over four million tons of waste every year. 

Due to this past month’s rain storms, county waste management leaders cut back the total number of trucks they were processing simultaneously.

They argue impacts are limited.

“All three of our active landfills…have been operating unloading systems in the wet weather area,” said Francine Bangert, a spokesperson for the county’s Waste and Recycling Department. “Despite the recent rains, we have been able to effectively receive and process all incoming waste in a safe and timely manner.”  

But the companies responsible for operating the trash trucks disagree with that statement, saying sustained backups are leaving them with nowhere to send trash.  

The Solid Waste Association of Orange County laid out a dire situation in a letter to the OC Waste and Recycling Department last Thursday, saying trash truck drivers are waiting anywhere from 3-4 hours every day outside the landfills just to empty their trucks. 

“The delay has a domino effect that disrupts upstream collection,” wrote the association’s general counsel John Kelly Astor. “(Drivers) are unable to return to the collection route to complete their scheduled work within the normal timeframe. As a result, operating costs have skyrocketed.” 

To read a copy of the letter, click here

Astor also said they’re running out of other places to send the trash, because under their agreements with the county they’re not allowed to take it anywhere outside the local system, and local recycling facilities, dubbed materials recovery facilities, are out of space as well. 

“Material that cannot be timely disposed is also choking operations at the MRFs, to the extent that many MRF operators are now being forced to turn away collection vehicles,” Astor wrote. “In short, the present situation is unsustainable.”  

CR&R Incorporated, the waste disposal company that’s responsible for servicing over half the county, sent a letter backing up their reports as well. 

“This is not a problem of our making, but we feel it is our obligation to alert you of this circumstance, as the situation is becoming extremely critical,” wrote regional vice president Chrystal Denning in a letter to the OC Waste and Recycling Department on Wednesday. “We must have someplace to deliver this material.”

“Every waste hauler in the County is experiencing the same issue.”

County leaders argue it’s not the fault of the landfills, and that their data shows most trucks rarely wait more than an hour and a half to get unloaded and back on the road. 

“Wet deck operations are necessarily less efficient and more complicated…and we have an obligation to ensure the safety and proper disposal of waste,” wrote Thomas Koutroulis, director of the county department. “As weather improves, we expect to be moving back to our dry deck.” 

To fix the problem, the trash disposal companies are asking for the county to either allow them to take the trash to disposal sites beyond the county or to open the landfills on Sunday and expand operating hours.  

But by transferring the trash outside local landfills, the county would lose out on the money they get for disposing of that trash, which could negatively affect their budget. 

The companies also asked that the county limit how much waste it takes in from beyond the county, opening the door for more local drivers to get in. 

County leaders are saying that’s not necessary, and are instead telling truck drivers to come at the end of the day or on Saturdays when wait times are shorter. 

“Our longest wait times are the direct result of local and import haulers queuing at landfill gates prior to opening,” Koutroulis said in a letter to the association. “OCWR will be considering contacting our import haulers and asking them to delay deliveries until 1 hour after opening…we suggest your membership consider doing the same.” 

To read Koutroulis’ letter, click here

Koutroulis denied the other recommendations, saying they wouldn’t fix anything and that they’re already coming up on the end of the crisis. 

“In light of the fact that the rainy season is coming to an end…this option is unlikely to provide any relief and will not be pursued,” Koutroulis wrote, responding to the request for longer operating hours and a potential Sunday option. 

Publicly, it’s an issue few people want to talk about. 

County leaders only replied in writing to Voice of OC’s questions after an eight hour delay, while the solid waste association and CR&R never replied to requests for comment. 

While it remains unclear if another solution will be put forward, workers have said they’re open to suggestions. 

“Our members are open to any other solutions you may have for addressing this issue,” Astor wrote. “Anything is preferable to the status quo.”

Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at or on Twitter @NBiesiada.  

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