A list of local recycling programs published Sunday incorrectly reported the leaf collection policy for Arlington County. Leaves are picked up routinely during the fall; residents need not make a special request. (Published 11/13/90)

The Takoma Park neighborhood of modest brick ranch houses was still asleep on a gusty fall morning when the garbage truck pulled up, trailed by Natalie Roy of the Trash Police.

Roy, enforcer of the area's toughest recycling law, thrust her hand into a plastic trash bag and fished out an empty beer can -- contraband under local law, which bans metal containers, glass jars and bottles, leaves, corrugated cardboard and newspapers from city-collected garbage.

Roy wrote up a ticket and shoved it under the front door. This time it was a warning, but a third offense carries a $20 fine.

"I'm sure I'll hear from these people, 'What are you doing in my garbage?' " Roy said. "Garbage is so private."

That attitude may seem quaint by the middle of this decade, when almost every homeowner, tenant and business in the area will be required to separate reusable goods from garbage before carrying it to the curb. Most programs are voluntary now, but officials say mandates are inevitable to meet ambitious recycling goals intended to prolong the life of local landfills.

Takoma Park is the only local jurisdiction to promote recycling by fining violators. Other communities intend to order haulers not to pick up unsorted trash, or station inspectors at the dump to keep out banned types of garbage.

Some may charge for collection based on how many garbage cans are used, as Seattle does. Others are likely to try incentives, such as giving free garden compost to people who drop off leaves in the fall.

"We estimate there will be a huge increase in curbside programs in most of the area by 1995, except in the most rural parts of the region," said Joan Rohlfs, recycling coordinator for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

The Washington area recycles about 12 percent of its business and residential trash, less than half the goal in most jurisdictions, the council estimates. Still, the amount of newspaper, glass, metal and plastic collected for manufacture into new products has doubled in the past year, according to the council.

The area's most zealous recycling target is in the District, which is committed to reaching 45 percent. Montgomery County hopes to recycle 40 percent of its trash, and most other local governments hope to exceed state mandates: 20 percent in Maryland by 1994 and 25 percent in Virginia by 1995. The presidents of area civic organizations have urged all jurisdictions to aim for 50 percent.

The first 10 percent is attainable by voluntary newspaper and yard waste recycling. But getting to 25 percent means requiring residential recycling, experts say. Exceeding 25 percent depends on cooperation from business, which generates about half of all garbage.

Newspaper recycling is the most common type locally; about 40 percent of local households have voluntary or mandatory curbside pickup. Only a few homes, 2 percent by the Council of Governments' estimate, are offered curbside pickup of glass containers, aluminum or other materials. The rest is collected at public bins, grocery stores or through private efforts by businesses and charities.

Newspaper, can and glass collection came first because it is easiest. Pickup of plastics has been slowed by a shortage of established recycling companies and the difficulty of collecting a light but bulky material. Plastic makes up less than 10 percent of the nation's garbage tonnage, but nearly 20 percent of its volume.

Critics say local governments are not keeping up with citizen demand for recycling programs, drawing complaints from conservationists and civic groups in almost every community.

In the District, the Sierra Club and Common Cause have taken officials to court, asking that the city be ordered to speed the pace of recycling. The D.C. Superior Court lawsuit, filed in September, charges that officials repeatedly ignored requirements in the city's 1989 recycling law: residential glass and metal collection to begin by April 1; a facility to sort and clean trash by October 1989; newspaper pickup from condominiums that ask for it; and enforcement of mandatory business trash recycling.

Environmentalists question the city's commitment to the program, contending that enforcement is lax, people get misinformation when they call the recycling office and the city has refused to hire enough staff.

The author of the city's recycling law agrees: "I am so disgusted with the District," said D.C. Council member Nadine P. Winter (D-Ward 6).

City officials would not comment on the lawsuit, but have defended themselves in the past by saying they were asked to do too much too fast with too little money.

The District is further along than most suburbs. It has mandatory residential collection of newspaper and yard waste, it requires business recycling and it has plans for residential metal and glass collection within a few months. Most suburbs do not mandate business recycling, are easing into home pickup with voluntary projects and have barely gone after apartments.

But the city paid a price for its haste. Early pickup efforts were disorganized, and tons of newspaper piled up in a city pit until an affiliate of The Washington Post Co. agreed to take it.

In the suburbs, citizen enthusiasm took officials by surprise. Alexandria had planned to empty its drop-off bins once a week, but they proved so popular that the job is done twice a week. Fairfax County's drop-off sites are taking in twice the tonnage that officials had projected.

A Washington Post poll recently found that two out of three Montgomery County residents believe their county is not doing enough to promote recycling -- one of the few areas of citizen discontent with county government. Eight of every 10 want recycling to be mandatory.

"The citizens are out in front and the government is lagging behind," said Alexandria civic activist Mike Hicks.

"We're probably on first {base} in relation to where we need to be on the ball field," said Alvin Rivera, president of the Montgomery County Civic Federation.

Suburban officials say it takes time to set up a complicated program that also must find buyers for reusable goods. Prince George's and Montgomery counties are delaying countywide pickup until they open multimillion-dollar "materials recovery facilities" next year. These facilities -- the area's first opened in Anne Arundel County in March -- clean and sort trash before it is sold.

In Manassas, which began a voluntary newspaper, glass and metal pickup program in January, officials said more than half the households leave rinsed-out jars, bottles and cans in city-provided buckets for weekly collection.

Although some stores are touting plastic recycling bins in decorator colors for the home, veteran recyclers often make do with paper grocery bags.

Sheila Keeny, president of the District League of Women Voters, keeps newspapers on her family's small back porch, along with grocery bags of rinsed bottles and cans that she flattens with her foot after removing the tops and bottoms. Storage is no problem for her, but "this is more of a problem for large families with smaller accommodations," Keeny said.

Kathy Splitt, of Alexandria, stores rinsed bottles and cans for her family of three in her basement, along with newspapers. The papers are picked up every other week. Every 10 days or so, she takes the other materials to a recycling center two blocks away.

"We thought it would be a hassle at first, but it hasn't turned out to be a problem at all," Splitt said.

Still, recycling has run into resistance. One Takoma Park man has refused to let the city pick up his garbage since recycling began last year. A Montgomery woman told county recycling coordinator Esther Bowring, "It is not my station in life to deal with trash."

"Seventy-five percent of the people will come around," Bowring said. "The other 25 percent, I don't know."

Recycling often involves trade-offs in this era of slumping tax revenue. Takoma Park paid for its pickup program by dropping popular back yard collection of trash. Manassas imposed a $4.50 monthly charge to pay for recycling and rising landfill expenses, drawing a lawsuit and hundreds of phone calls from angry residents.

Prices for recycled goods are so unpredictable that a profit is not guaranteed, but supporters say making a profit is not the point.

"Recycling does not pay for itself," said Fairfax County coordinator Tanis Skislak. "Garbage collection and disposal does not pay for itself. It does cost money, but what you're doing is holding down the waste for the long term."

The recycling boom stems from a lack of land, money and community support for new landfills, even as existing dumps are running out of room.

The share of garbage headed for the dump has dropped from more than 80 percent a decade ago to 73 percent because of recycling and incineration, according to the National Solid Waste Management Association, a trade group. It is predicted to be less than 50 percent by 2000.

Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia have laws requiring recycling plans or mandatory separation of recyclable materials, according to the trade group.

Once the goods are picked up or dropped off, they take several different paths: Some jurisdictions sell them directly to companies that make them into new products, some sell them to companies that sort the goods and others require haulers to market them.

Not all used goods can be remade into the same commodities. Most office paper is recyled into tissue -- yesterday's memo into tomorrow's toilet paper -- because paper with printing on it is not pure enough for manufacturers. Mixed plastic is made into "plastic lumber" goods such as park benches and planters. Mixed glass can be ground up for lining roadbeds.

Some newsprint is reborn as newspapers. Sorted glass, cans and plastic bottles also can enjoy new lives in their old forms.

Many municipalities fit recycling into a broader campaign to reduce all waste, and avoid the cost and contamination of disposal. To lower consumption of paper, Fairfax County will buy only copiers that can copy on both sides of a sheet. Prince George's County plans an advertising campaign next year touting reusable cloth shopping bags as an alternative to paper or plastic.

"It's a quality-of-life issue," said Jonathan Phillips, special progam manager of the Prince George's County recycling office. "What's going to happen if we don't?"

Telephone numbers listed are for specific recycling requirements and lists of public and private recycling centers and drop-off locations.

DISTRICT Mandatory newspaper and yard waste separation for pickup. 727-5856.


Montgomery County: Weekly curbside pickup of newspaper bundles and aluminum cans. Some curbside leaf collection. 217-2415.

Takoma Park: Recycling containers are provided for aluminum cans and glass to be picked up with newspapers on pickup day. Plastics and used motor oil can be dropped off at Public Works site. 585-8333.

Rockville: Recycling containers are provided for glass and aluminum for pickup with newspapers on pickup day. 309-3094.

Prince George's County: Some county residents receive curbside newspaper and aluminum can pickup. 925-5963.

Howard County: Pilot curbside pickup program serves some homes with bins for aluminum, glass, steel cans, plastic bottles and newspapers picked up on trash days. Mobile drop-off sites. 992-SORT.

Anne Arundel County: Some households receive curbside pickup of glass and plastic jars and bottles, aluminum, tin, corrugated cardboard and newspaper once a week. Three permanent and five mobile drop-off centers for those items and for used motor oil and antifreeze. Large items picked up on request. 222-6103.


All jurisdictions, except Loudoun and Prince William counties and the City of Manassas, will pick up old appliances on request.

Alexandria: Mandatory biweekly curbside newspaper pickup; dropoff bins for glass, plastic, aluminum and newspapers; seasonal leaf collection. 751-5130.

Arlington County: Four drop-off sites for newspapers, car batteries and scrap metal; seasonal curbside pick up of leaves by request. 358-6570.

Fairfax County: Mandatory biweekly curbside newspaper pickup. Seasonal curbside leaf and brush pickup. Eight public drop-off points for glass, aluminum cans, newspapers. Nine sites where mulch is distributed free. 246-5052.

Fairfax City: Drop-off for newspapers, waste oil, car batteries, tires, paint, pesticides, aluminum cans. Pilot curbside leaf pickup. 385-7810.

Falls Church: Voluntary curbside pickup of newspapers every Wednesday. As of Dec. 5, various glass and plastic containers and aluminum cans will be picked up curbside. 241-5160.

Vienna: Mandatory biweekly curbside pickup of newspapers. Leaves are picked up seasonally. There are drop-off locations for aluminum cans, glass, cardboard and waste oil. 255-6341.

Loudoun: Residents can drop off newspapers, glass, waste oil, old appliances, aluminum, tires, car batteries at county landfill. 771-5318.

Herndon: Voluntary weekly curbside newspaper pickup. Leaves picked up curbside in season. 787-7380 for general information; 435-6853 to begin curbside pickup.

Prince William County: Pilot curbside program for newspapers, aluminum, glass. Drop-off centers for newspapers, glass, old appliances, car batteries, tires and waste oil. 335-6819.

Manassas: Voluntary weekly curbside pickup of newspapers, glass and aluminum. 257-8082

Manassas Park: Weekly curbside pickup of aluminum, glass and newspapers. Appliances picked up on last pickup day of the month. 335-8840.

Compiled by Kathleen Kennedy Manzo