When my late husband, Julius Hobson, became a member of the first elected legislative body in the District in 100 years, he knew he was dying of cancer. During the three years he served on the D.C. Council (1974-77), he raced to introduce the bills he felt most important to the quality and vitality of life in this city.
Among the important pieces of legislation he introduced and supported were the ''Initiative'' and ''Referendum'' bills (decentralizing government and giving control to the people). Although his returnable-bottle bill was long ignored by a nervous city government, the initiative process will finally bring it before the voters on Nov. 3, as Initiative 28. Julius would have been most disappointed, therefore, by his friend Sterling Tucker's recent ''personalized'' letter to District voters, paid for by the beverage industry, which opposes Initiative 28.
The Litter and Solid Waste Reduction Act of 1986, which Mr. Tucker claims is the solution to the District's litter problem, would require large expenditures of D.C. tax money to be successful. Annually, we already spend $11.5 million to clean up litter and $29.5 million to collect and dispose of solid waste. Yet we are plagued by litter on practically every street, alley and playground. The amount of solid waste we generate has grown by one-third in the past 10 years, and we have almost no recycling programs. How many more millions would Mr. Tucker have us spend?
Julius' position was that his bottle bill would require no government spending, would reduce bottle and can litter by more than three-quarters and would recycle several million containers that we now have to pay to ''dispose of properly'' in landfills.
The ''new'' Litter and Solid Waste Reduction Commission is a favorite industry ploy. When the bottle bill was last considered, the same companies produced the mayor's Anti-Litter Committee. This committee released impressive statistics for a couple of years, including claims that litter was being reduced as much as 75 percent. But after it defeated the bottle bill, its interest waned, and litter again soared.
If I didn't vote yes for Initiative 28 on Nov. 3, I would miss an opportunity to say thank you to Julius. Were he alive today, he would be mighty angry at Mayor Barry, Sterling Tucker, the ministers' group and others who are bowing to the financial pressure of the glass and can manufacturing industries. Shame on them! TINA HOBSON Washington
The major reason for the bottle bill, according to those who are against it, is to decrease litter. But there is a greater, farther-reaching effect the bill will have. While it is important to keep our cities clean, it is more important to foster an attitude of conservation in people. This can begin with the bottle bill.
While cities may stay cleaner with effective litter laws and strategies, the trash of old bottles and cans will still have to go somewhere. This summer New York apparently ran out of areas to dump its trash.
We simply do not have the luxury of a "throwaway" culture anymore. The world's resources are diminishing at an alarming rate, along with its wild flora and fauna. Continuing to produce nonrecyclable products and discouraging incentive to help recycle products will ultimately hurt all consumers no matter what they do with their bottles. Conservation of all our resources needs to be fostered worldwide today to avoid the problems and escalated costs of needed but exhausted resources tomorrow. The bottle bill should be supported so that society can develop a conservation-minded attitude and nurture it in future generations.
By the way, if the anti-Initiative 28 folks are so keen on developing other methods of avoiding litter and are so concerned with keeping the city clean, why do they litter my mailbox and neighborhood with flyers demanding the bill's defeat? They'll only end up in the trash. FRANK B. KOHN Washington
A few years ago Fairfax County had a modest bottle bill in effect. Prices of soft drinks promptly dropped. Our local Giant handled the return of empties on the honor system. You wheeled your empties through the front door and parked them. When you checked out you reported the number of bottles you'd returned and received a prompt cash refund.
I asked an assistant manager how it was working -- she said fine. In fact, more bottles were returned than deposits collected. Some customers simply forgot to claim their refunds. Those who did had some extra change in their pockets and the satisfaction of knowing they'd helped reduce the mountain of trash at the county dump. An added plus: residents just outside the county line flocked over to buy cheaper drinks, which didn't upset the Fairfax retailers one bit.
Several months later, just as the bottle bill was operating smoothly and both dealers and consumers were adapting, the state had it repealed. It seems the beverage lobbyists had "persuaded" the state that Fairfax County had exceeded its authority in passing the bill. Within days soft drink prices rose, along with the piles of trash we put at our curbs.
So, D.C., try it -- you'll like it. And you won't have any state government to tell you that you can't recycle your trash. BETSEY CALLAHAN Vienna
When you move from Washington to New York, you notice one side effect of the "bottle bill" in New York: the ragged, shopping-cart army of scavengers rummaging through garbage pails looking for returnables. On nights before garbage collections they go down the street rifling through each household's containers in turn, with the bolder ones entering front yards to check on what has not yet been put out.
Some take only loose cans and bottles in plain sight, which does little harm except to privacy, but others are not so polite: they rip open the garbage bags and strew the contents on the sidewalk in search of booty. After spending a few mornings rebagging this scattered debris -- that which has not already blown away down the street -- it's easy to forget that the original point of the whole exercise was to beautify neighborhoods. WALTER OLSON Brooklyn