The beauties of Virginia have been extolled for centuries -- most recently by the new governor, Gerald Baliles. Yet the landscape is being desecrated by tons of throwaway glass and metal -- stuff that is neither biodegradable nor necessary. Still more of this trash is collected and recollected at the expense of consumers, farmers and everybody who pays state and local taxes. Virginia's voters, however, have a sensible answer to this statewide mess, even if up to now their lawmakers in Richmond haven't been getting the message.

According to a Gallup Poll conducted for Virginia Polytechnic and State University, 76 percent of Virginians support bringing back returnable containers -- with deposits as incentives for conservation. It's an old-fashioned idea that is coming back, despite owls from those who profit from making more and more throwaway containers. The legislation is scheduled for consideration Monday in the state senate's Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee.

Though this legislation has been killed in committee for 11 straight years, several committee members are said to be reconsidering their positions this year in light of growing voter support for action. No doubt each of them is getting an earful from the trash lobbyists who would have them believe that deposit laws make prices go up -- it's not so -- and that "thousands of jobs" would be lost. The latter is an alarm that never seems to take into account the tax revenues that may be saved by decreased collection costs.

People in states with deposit laws know better. In New York, for instance, estimates of savings in litter cleanup costs have gone as high as $50 million; savings in solid waste expenditures, as much as $19 million; savings in energy costs, from $50 million to $100 million. With budget cuts being the order of the day from Washington to the state capitals, Virginia should take advantages of all potential savings.

The chief intrepid sponsor of S.B. 38 is Sen. Madison Marye, a rural lawmaker from Virginia's Montgomery County. He is appealing to some fundamental values. As he noted three years ago, "This is not a wild, liberal scheme. Philosophically -- if I can use a word which is certainly not part of my professional vocabulary -- it is a conservative bill. It goes to the grass-roots philosophy of America . . . thrift, reuse of resources."

It also would rescue a beautiful state from the ravages of today's throwaway society in ways that no industry recycling campaign or "litter tax" could. Common sense, frugality and a love of the landscape are on the side of approval.