I wish I could agree with the assertion by Jessica Mathews {"The Year They Mulched Christmas Trees," op-ed, Dec. 30}, but recycling is simply not, as she wrote, "bursting out all over."

I have been trying to be a concerned environmentalist but must work very hard to recycle common household materials. I live in Fairfax County, where the only organized recycling effort consists of curbside newspaper pickup and well-hidden sites for cans and bottles. If I had to guess at the compliance level for the so-called mandatory newspaper pickups, I would say it's less than 10 percent. Glass and can pickup sites are so far-flung that it is difficult to believe that this is an important priority.

Recently, I experimented with trying to recycle the cardboard and plastic bottle component of the household trash. I have reduced the volume of garbage by about 30 percent, but I must cart the material to MetroRecyclers, which is a minimum 40-minute roundtrip. How can we expect people who are not convinced that recycling is important to make that level of commitment? Why does such an obviously positive measure have to be so difficult?

In Europe there are recycling sites in nearly every shopping hub. The connection between what one carries home and what one must carry back to recycle is crystal clear and reasonably convenient.

It's only a matter of a short time before Fairfax County will realize its shortsighted policies. A serious recycling effort could probably be operated on a break-even basis; instead, it will cost millions to support expanded landfills in the future. It's shocking that in the home of many of the nation's policy makers we can be so far behind in this important effort.

SUZANNE BAKEWELL McLean

Jessica Mathews' optimistic view of recycling developments needs some tempering. While grass-roots organizations, local governments and consumer product corporations are actively pursuing recycling, the federal government and incineration industry continue to work against it. Last month, Vice President Quayle nullified an Environmental Protection Agency rule requiring minimum 25 percent recycling before permits for burning can be obtained. The industry wants to burn all the waste. President Bush refuses to make procurement of products with recycled content mandatory for federal agencies.

There is much work ahead for citizens if we are to establish comprehensive recycling in this decade.

NEIL SELDMAN President MARJOLEIN van der VEEN Media Intern Institute for Local Self-Reliance Washington