SCORE A BIG ONE for the Gross National Trashpile: to the delight of the litter lobby -- those pushers of the billions of throwaway bottles and cans that flood the countryside every year -- Virginia's Supreme Court has struck down two useful laws aimed at curbing the metal and glass waste in this region. Never mind how sensible or effective the beverage-container deposit laws might be in Fairfax and Loudoun counties. That wasn't the point. The issue was home rule -- local option -- which is pitifully limited in Virginia: the high court has decreed that even if a majority of the local people and their government support a deposit law, a county may not enact one without the express permission of the state.
At this point, anything resembling express permission from Richmond is at least 100 light years beyond remote. The last time the state legislature even looked at such a proposal, all it did was to enact a law specifically prohibiting any jurisdiction in Virginia besides Fairfax and Loudoun from adopting any deposit ordinances. The state's idea of a hard-hitting proposal on this subject is a two-year-old bill sold by the manufacturers, distributors and others who profit from the tossing out and the recollecting of bottles and cans -- a "Litter Control Act" that relies on advertising campaigns on behalf of neatness.
But supporters of deposit laws -- including the Fairfax County League of Women Voters, consumer organizations and conservation groups -- know that litter is only one gross aspect of the throwaway mess. There is the expensive absurdity of constantly marketing, tossing out, collecting and remanufacturing bottles and cans instead of using returnables. There can be considerable savings in the use of returnables, even though inflation keeps kicking all beverage prices up; the purchaser of returnables is borrowing containers instead of buying them and then either tossing them out or hauling them to recycling centers to be made all over again into new bottles and cans.
Ideally, a deposit law covering the entire country would simplify the return of containers everywhere and curb wastes of resources most effectively. In the meantime, the effort to do something in Virginia should not stop merely because of one legal setback. If Richmond isn't ready to enact a statewide deposit law, the least the legislators can do is approve legislation that would let people in a county decide for themselves how to stop the enormous and expensive excesses connected with throwaway bottles and cans.