Loudoun County's recycling program, faced with the first of three state-mandated deadlines and heavy fines if it fails, is starting to pick up steam.

Under 1989 state regulations, the county must recycle 10 percent of its waste by the end of this year, 15 percent by the end of 1993 and 25 percent by the end of 1995 to avoid fines of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

If the county fails to meet the December goal, "it faces fines of $25,000 a day per violation," said Cheryl Cashman of the Virginia Department of Waste Management.

State law also requires that the county come up with a plan to meet the deadlines, approved by the Board of Supervisors, by July. If the county fails to do so, no new permits for landfills or solid waste management facilities will be issued, Cashman said.

The man responsible for meeting the deadlines is Stephen A. Carfora, hired in September 1989 to be Loudoun's first recycling director.

Carfora's efforts at educating Loudoun County residents and businesses are being helped by increasing public awareness of the need to recycle, particularly in the face of Loudoun's landfill crisis.

"We're getting deluged with calls," Carfora said.

Two years ago, Loudoun was recycling less than 1 percent of its solid waste; now it recycles between 5 and 10 percent, and Carfora said he is optimistic about the December deadline. "I think we'll meet it," he said.

Loudoun has 11 voluntary recycling drop-off points, in Countryside, Hamilton, Hillsboro, Leesburg, Lovettsville, Purcellville, Round Hill, Lucketts, two in Sterling, and one at the county landfill; 1,800 tons of recyclable trash were collected from the sites in 1990.

In addition to those programs, the recycling effort is being bolstered by initiatives by trash haulers, citizens groups, town councils and other individuals.

Some of the programs are not doing as well as expected. In Middleburg, a voluntary curbside recycling program involving 264 houses is beginning to run into difficulties after a good start.

At a Board of Supervisors meeting last week, Dave Grayson, an independent hauler involved in a curbside recycling program, questioned whether any voluntary program can be effective.

"When recycling is not mandated," it always drops off, Grayson told the board.

However, a recent Christmas tree recycling drive collected about 5,300 trees, or roughly 30 percent of all trees sold in the county during the holiday season and double the number collected in a drive after Christmas 1989. The trees are to be turned into mulch and chips, which then would be sold to gardeners and farmers throughout Northern Virginia.

The Loudoun branch of Browning-Ferris Industries, a trash-hauling company, has teamed up with the Sterling Foundation, a citizens group, to "provide recycling services to businesses as well as communities through a drop-off center" at Park View High School. But the operation has yet to turn a profit.

"We are trying to break even, but we haven't been able to," said Mark Oderkirk, Browning-Ferris's Dulles district manager. Carfora said that one of the difficulties facing the recycling office in compiling accurate figures of the proportion of Loudoun's waste being recycled is that private groups do not report their statistics to the office.

With the market for recycled goods still largely undeveloped, the unprofitability of recycling may hinder the county's ability to meet the December deadline. But that problem was recognized by the 1990 General Assembly, which passed a law saying that if the December deadline could not be met because there was no market for recycled trash, no fines would be levied.