Prince William and Manassas residents and businesses have jumped on the recycling bandwagon faster than anyone predicted or expected.

County-owned bins at 21 drop-off points for cans, bottles and newspapers fill up as fast as they can be emptied, and county-sponsored curbside collection projects are going full swing in Montclair and Yorkshire. Private haulers, including ABC in Lake Ridge, are beginning to offer recycling programs as well.

In Manassas, 52 percent of all households are participating in the city's bottle, can and newspaper collection program, up from 45 percent earlier this year, Assistant City Manager Clyde B. Wimmer said.

The county is recycling 10 percent of its trash, nearly twice the goal for this year, solid waste officials said. Virginia law requires counties to be recycling 25 percent of their trash by 1995, but Prince William officials expect to reach that goal in 1992.

Trash delivery to the Independent Hill landfill has dropped from 240,000 tons last year to an expected 203,000 tons this year. Public works spokeswoman Deborah Oliver attributed part of the drop to the slumping economy.

"People are buying less and they are throwing away less," she said.

Prince William recently began a voluntary yard waste recycling program. County residents can take leaves and branches, bundled in paper bags, not plastic, to the Independent Hill landfill, where they will be mulched and used as ground cover.

Some private haulers, including the company serving Montclair, also will pick up yard waste.

Oliver encouraged homeowners not to bag their yard waste at all.

"We'd rather they run over {leaves} with a lawn mower and use them in flower beds or on lawns. Leaves provide carbon and grass provides nitrogen," Oliver said. "You'd be saving money and not adding chemicals to your lawn."

Prince William also intends to start plastics and household hazardous waste recovery programs in the next few months, Oliver said.

Hazardous waste, including items such as paint thinner and chemical cleansers, will be collected at the landfill.

Collection bins for plastic bottles and jugs will be placed at seven of the 21 existing collection points, Oliver said. The county will accept containers with necks made of type 1 and 2 plastics only (all bottles are marked with a number on the bottom). Those two types make up 85 percent of all plastics, Oliver said.

Manassas officials said they also hope to start yard waste and plastics recycling programs next year.

White paper recycling also is beginning to take hold in county government buildings. Special cardboard containers have appeared in virtually every building, and county staff members are beginning to make frequent use of them. Public schools have not joined the program, but school officials are negotiating with public works officials about participating.