Going Green Meets Gridlock: Recyclers Paralyze 16th St.

By Kristen Mack and Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, April 27, 2008

It was billed as a quick and easy way to recycle hazardous material and old electronics. It didn't quite turn out that way.

The District's spring Household Hazardous Waste and E-Cycling collection turned 16th Street NW into a parking lot most of yesterday. Cars were idling for hours as people waited to drop off paint, solvents, batteries and old electronic goods at the Carter Barron Amphitheatre parking lot.

Some people eventually ditched their cars and carried cans of paint, gasoline, even TVs, walking for blocks to the site, part of Rock Creek Park, where they still faced long waits. One put a 26-inch television into a baby stroller and wheeled it in. And some just gave up.

The inconvenient truth: The D.C. government wasn't prepared for the demand to get rid of junk in an environmentally safe way. With people more aware of the need to save the planet, having a twice-a-year drop-off day no longer cuts it.

"People are trying to be green and yet they are sitting in their cars wasting gas," said David Stanley, who gave up in the morning because of the gridlock. He came back in the afternoon, parking a few blocks away so that he could walk his latex paint and gallons of boat oil to the amphitheater.

From the start, it was a mess.

More than 300 people were in the Carter Barron parking lot at 16th and Kennedy streets when workers arrived at 7 a.m., two hours before the event was to begin.

"When you start with that kind of backup, it's hard to manage," said Verna Clayborne, who heads the D.C. Solid Waste Education and Enforcement Program.

Based on past experience, she and other public works officials expected 1,800 people to drop off items. Between 3,000 and 4,000 showed up. The District had about 80 people working the event; many were volunteers.

"Our staff did the best they could," Clayborne said. "I'm ready for people to be screaming Monday. We realize we are going to get an environmental slap behind this one."

D.C. officials said they recognize a need to do more. In Montgomery County, residents can recycle hazardous material and out-of-date electronics seven days a week at the Shady Grove Solid Waste Transfer Station. The county also has monthly drop-offs at two satellite locations. Fairfax County has a transfer station and a landfill complex open Thursday through Sunday for people to drop off hazardous goods.

D.C. City Administrator Dan Tangherlini said crowds were especially large yesterday because of the growing interest in recycling and the beautiful weather that drew people outside.

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