Do We or Don’t We Recycle?

By elaine simmons

National Geographic, The Atlantic, and NPR recently ran stories that claimed only 5% of plastic is actually recycled in the US. How does this comport with Arlington’s much-touted recycling program?

In my skeptic mode, I called the county’s expert, Adam Riedel, and peppered him with questions. He was adamant that Arlington does collect plastic marked 1–7 (marked in a triangle) and sells it in bundles for processing in states like Alabama. He acknowledged that plastic marked 1, 2, and 5 may be the only types ultimately getting recycled (3/4/6/7 likely go to the landfill or are incinerated) but the 1/2/5 designations account for most of the plastic collected. 

Adam also mentioned things that people put in blue recycling bins that don’t belong there:

“Paper” coffee cups (they are plastic lined) and plastic tops from coffee shops: put in trash 

Plastic bags and Amazon bubble wrap envelopes:  can be recycled at grocery stores that collect plastic bags (e.g., Giant near Virginia Square and Hyde Park Harris Teeter near Ballston Common)

While it’s good to hear what Arlington is doing with recycling, for many reasons, we should still cut down on plastic, especially single use plastic, such as water bottles, cutlery, take-out containers, and plastic bags. An easy way to reduce is to get reusable cups/bottles for coffee and water and reusable or paper bags for groceries.

A Grove of New Native Trees Planted Along Route 50

By Heidi Ananthakrishnan

In November, I coordinated with Arlington County to plant 130 native Virginian trees along the medians lining Route 50 (Arlington Boulevard) at N. Fillmore Street. The county is keen on restoring our tree canopy, which has been declining at an alarming rate due to new construction. Because trees not only offer cooling shade but help lessen the effects of flooding, our stormwater taxes funded these trees. 

The effect of the new trees on the landscape is astonishing. They give texture and depth to the bare road and grass. For those who live along Route 50, they will screen homes from traffic and lessen pollution and noise. The trees were planted in groves with a mixture of both large and small sizes. This was intended to create a natural forest look rather than a colonnade. The variety of trees, which include oak, bald cypress, American holly, Eastern redcedar, Eastern redbud, American beech, and the showy white fringe tree, present a welcome sight to passersby.

We know from long-time residents that Route 50 has been treeless since at least the 1930s, when it was still a dirt road. It’s exciting that trees grace this strip of land again for the first time in possibly a hundred years or more. Given the county’s eagerness to increase the tree canopy, the county welcomes suggestions from Arlington residents for the planting of trees in areas that can accommodate them.

You too can get more trees planted! Here is the link on the county website to put in a request: Tree Planting Program

Use Your Beige Kitchen Caddy to Compost All Food Scraps!

By Elaine Simmons

Composting is nature’s way of recycling. Non-composted food waste, rotting in landfills, is a major source of methane—a greenhouse gas even more damaging to the environment than carbon dioxide. Happily, our county has a terrific composting program that accepts a wide range of food and food-soiled paper (see graphic on the next page). Just put all your food waste into your beige plastic kitchen caddy and transfer the contents to your green yard waste bin (not the black trash bin). You should never have to use your garbage disposal again to chew up food, since all food can now be composted.  

It’s best to use a liner (compostable or paper bag) in your beige caddy. I prefer Biobags from MOM’s Organic Market and Amazon but the 3-gallon compostable bags that fit the 2 gallon size caddy are in many stores. DO NOT use plastic bags since they do not biodegrade. Silicone spatulas work great in scraping every speck of food off your plates, platters, pans, etc., but you should drain excess liquid from food scraps before placing them in the caddy. You can wash the caddy in the dishwasher or by hand. 

Yes, I’m a bit OCD and like my rotting food wrapped in a tidy bundle but you don’t have to use a bag. Food waste can go directly into your green bin. But, bag or no bag, I would first place newspaper, a pizza box, and/or yard trimmings (leaves, twigs) at the bottom of the green bin as a first layer to absorb moisture to avoid food waste sticking to your bin. And, having experienced the joy of a compost bag full of decaying food breaking all over my kitchen floor during transit to the bin (compost bags are not as strong as plastic), I now carry the caddy to the green yard waste bin and lift out the bag over the bin. You can rinse your green bin with a hose and mild soap as needed. 

I have never noticed any rodents in my green bin, but if you don’t want to risk it (or want to avoid odors in the summer heat), you can freeze scraps (like meat, poultry, and fish) until collection day. In the next issue of the Bulletin, we will discuss where the county sends the food waste, what happens to it, and how you can get the resulting rich compost for your yard.

Missing Middle Housing: Arguments For and Against

By Chris Thompson and Elaine Simmons

On November 12th, Arlington County leaders will decide whether to implement new zoning laws to allow for denser population on our existing county footprint; in this case by rezoning current single-family-only residential zones. 

First, a few facts. County data indicate that about 24% of the county’s housing stock is detached single-family homes (SFH) and about 47% is mid- or high-rise multifamily housing. Most of the remaining 29% is low-rise garden-style apartment buildings. In 2018, under then current zoning rules, the county forecast a net growth of 68,300 residents from 2020 through 2045 (a 30% increase in our population), with many or most of these presumably housed in an expanding number of mid- and high-rise buildings. Our county has more room to build “up” to accommodate expected population growth than to create new, low-density, single-family neighborhoods. In fact, the notable recent past trend in the Arlington SFH stock is not the growth in quantity; it is the growth in the size of homes via renovation or total replacement. According to the Alliance for Housing Solutions, the average size of a replacement home for an Arlington “teardown” in the past 10 years was three times the size of the original house, with an average sales price of $1.7 million. The concept to use the limited space we have to grow the proportion of housing that is neither SFH nor mid-/high-rise is called “Missing Middle (MM) Housing.” 

Proponents of MM support this land-use approach because they see SFHs on typical lots (1/6 acre in the case of Arlington) as beyond the economic reach of those in the middle class. The county also aims to rectify the injustice inflicted by racial exclusionary practices dating from the 1930s of limiting neighborhoods to SFHs. The MM approach is to rezone current SFH-only neighborhoods to allow for a mix of duplexes, triplexes, and even 8-plexes as, long as the building meets the same standard as a single-family dwelling. The desired outcome is more units of housing that are less expensive than new single-family units, with an intended focus on walkable/shoppable neighborhoods. This should benefit those looking to move into Arlington, those wanting to up-size within the County, and older residents looking to downsize within the same neighborhood. Environmental arguments for MM are that multi-family units have a lower per capita carbon footprint than large SFHs and increasing housing density within Arlington will reduce sprawl outside our county. Look for the County’s slides promoting the MM approach at   Also, you can find a major MM advocacy group’s website here: Five Things to Know About Missing Middle Housing — Alliance for Housing Solutions

Opponents of increasing the allowable density in low-density neighborhoods say that duplexes (which have sold in Arlington for $1.2M) and tri-plexes will be unaffordable for middle-income buyers. They agree that 6- or 8-family dwellings in neighborhoods like Lyon Park should be more affordable but expect them to be mostly rentals. They also consider the MM proposals as environmentally unsound (especially in reducing the tree canopy) and unduly taxing on County infrastructure (to include road congestion, stormwater/flood control, parking, schools and other public facilities). Opponents point to County data indicating that 60% of Arlington’s trees are found in the residential areas targeted by MM, which reduces the tree replacement requirements by up to 50%. Look for arguments against MM on the Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future website at:

If you are a first-time buyer in Arlington or are up-sizing within the county, a key question is what size MM housing unit (duplex through 8-plex) will be within your financial reach?  If you already live in an Arlington SFH neighborhood, how will multi-family units nearby affect you? Will MM optimistically yield a more accessible and diverse community, or will that optimism be tempered by issues often associated with higher density living, such as school crowding, competition for parking and traffic congestion? The county has sent up engagement opportunities at this link:

Development Update

by Aaron Schuetz

Arlington County has changed rapidly over the past few decades, but with Amazon coming, change seems to have accelerated. Many of us who have been here for more than a decade find things have changed in both good ways, and bad. Gone are many of the modest neighborhood homes built for the federal workforce. Gone are many small commercial buildings with surface parking lots. As we continue to urbanize and up-build, we have gained a lot and have welcomed many more people into our community. But we’ve also lost a lot. We might be losing the sense of community that has been so important to many who choose to live in Lyon Park. Striking a balance and deciding when to ride the wave, and when to push back against it, can be challenging.

When I first became involved with the LPCA and Development issues, the 2201 Pershing project was just beginning. Concern about how development would change our community and ensuring it would be an asset was foremost. A decade later, what do you think? Do you like it? Do you pine for what used to be there? Do you wish there was even more? Well, more is coming. Just across Pershing Drive, the Days Inn site is being prepared for redevelopment. The County just approved changes to the General Land Use Plan, paving the way for a similarly large development. These two developments will define a “Gateway” into our neighborhood. While a decade ago, the 2201 building was deemed by many to be “too large” for being so far from the metro, Arlington staff now considers an even larger building to be OK. At the same time, even more effort is being put into how that building’s “massing” is arranged on the site—both in how it relates to the neighboring houses and apartments, and also in how it “feels” for pedestrians walking the street. We’ve invited the owner/developer to come to our January LPCA meeting to present their plan for this site. Our engagement can help them design something that is a neighborhood asset. We can’t ask them for a community swimming pool, but we can make suggestions and raise our concerns about traffic, retail, open space, and affordable housing. I hope you can make that meeting.

Just outside our neighborhood, there’s lots more happening. Most important for us, the Silver Diner/Joyce Motors block will be redeveloped with a hotel on the point closest to the metro, and two residential buildings that border 10th Street. While the block involves two separate developers, they are working together on certain aspects (like a single underground parking structure). The largest issue for our neighborhood is how it affects Ashton Heights. While the development is on the far side of 10th street from Ashton Heights, the County seems to be softening about some height tapering issues, meaning the building could “tower over” 10th street. That would be in stark contrast to Ashton Heights’s single-family dwellings (although some commercial sites border 10th with residential set back). I’ve been working with other Civic Associations to push back on the County’s decisions like these, because later, developers will use them as a precedent for developments that are in our neighborhood.

In addition, Arlington is considering updates to the Clarendon Sector Plan. This plan (now 15 years old) created the overall vision for Clarendon’s redevelopment. It has helped guide the area’s growth and success, even if many of us miss the old Clarendon and feel “too old” to hang there now. The Sector Plan includes the sites I mentioned, and nearby sites (St. Charles Church, the Fire Station, and the Wells Fargo bank site) that will soon be redeveloped. While some people believe parts of the plan need tweaking (like incorporating Arlington’s Vision Zero plan for making streets safe for everyone, not just cars and trucks), others are unhappy that County staff seem to be undermining parts of the plan. My biggest concern is that the fire station block, which was once designated as a future park space, will likely not become a park. In Rosslyn, the great new fire station is integrated into a new development, which freed up county land. The Arlington Fire Department seems not to be interested in pursuing a similar solution in Clarendon, preferring to rebuild the station on the current site.