Environmental concerns are nothing new to the Washington area. In November, D.C. voters fiercely debated and then narrowly defeated the bottle bill (Initiative 28), which would have placed deposits of 5 to 20 cents on beverage containers. Earlier this month, Montgomery County Executive Sidney Kramer recommended a major expansion of the county's mandatory recycling program, which would require many county residents to separate glass, metal and aluminum containers from household trash. Kramer also wants to extend the county's mandatory newspaper recycling program beyond the residents of 75,000 households who already are required to bundle their newspapers for curbside pickups.
Despite the defeat of the bottle bill initiative, the D.C. Council is also considering a bill to require its residents to separate newspapers, metal, bottles and glass from other trash, and other area jurisdictions with similar trash disposal problems can't be far behind. These proposals are designed to reduce the trash flow in order to help conserve landfill space and reduce the need to incinerate enormous amounts of trash. The local governments may even be able to make some money by selling some of the recycled materials.
While these programs serve an important purpose, they're not always very popular because they make protecting the local environment seem complicated, time-consuming and inconvenient. The vote on the bottle bill showed that many D.C. residents did not want to be burdened by the law and that, rightly or wrongly, many black voters in less affluent parts of the city viewed the bottle bill as a hardship being imposed on them by whites from more affluent parts of the city.
Maybe what's needed to make protecting the environment more popular with the citizenry is a simpler, more convenient first step to improve the city's surroundings without unduly burdening the city's less affluent residents. One possibility can be found in a sentence that every Metro commuter has heard a thousand times: ''Please take your newspapers and other belongings with you when you leave the train.'' Apparently Metro got tired of having old newspapers on the inside of the train (although I've always thought of the leftover newspapers as great sources of free reading material) and decided to remind passengers to take their newspapers with them in order to beautify the insides of the trains.
But what happens to the newspapers after they leave the train? Anyone who has noticed the trash cans at Farragut North and other downtown Metro stations can answer this question. A large number of newspapers brought by commuters into the downtown area get thrown away in trash cans at the Metro stations. So while we are making the subway cars look nicer on the inside, suburbanites like myself are adding to the District's trash disposal problems, while other Metrorail riders are undoubtedly adding to the trash disposal problems in the suburban jurisdictions where Metro stations are located.
It doesn't have to be that way. Why can't Metro and the area's local governments arrange to collect the newspapers at each station for recycling? Recycling newspapers would help keep the trains and the city and counties clean, alleviate some of the area's trash disposal problems and allow suburban commuters to contribute to the city's well-being without much effort or sacrifice. Proceeds from selling the recycled newspapers could be used to pay for the recycling program, with any remainder going to help deal with the problems of the city's homeless, some of whom live in or near Metro stations.
This is a modest, common-sense proposal that could help the local environment with only a little effort on everyone's part. How about it, Metro? -- David Naimon