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.

Free Tree Applications Accepted Now!

By Bill Anhut, Lyon Park’s Tree Steward

Arlington County is losing overhead tree canopy primarily due to new home development and environmental causes. Lyon Park is one area of Arlington recently experiencing the largest decline in tree canopy coverage. When a large canopy tree is removed, it takes more than twenty years for newly planted trees to replace the lost tree’s oxygen production and rainwater control benefits. Removing a mature tree is a personal decision by a landowner, but the owner and neighbors can help remediate the loss of tree coverage by planting more trees near the fallen predecessor and in appropriate spaces within their own yards. 

Arlington County encourages tree planting in its citizen’s yards by offering two programs providing free trees: The Tree Canopy Fund and October’s Tree Distribution event. The Tree Canopy Fund Program is a developer-funded and volunteer-administered program that plants nursery-grade, native shade trees on private property. Applications are received twice a year, January 6, for Spring planting and June for Fall planting. To be eligible to receive a free canopy tree, (a $350-$450 value), a property owner must represent that the intended location is suitable for the planting of a large tree and promise to care for the newly planted tree (i.e., water weekly during its first year). Each request will be carefully evaluated by a grant review panel based upon site suitability and the species of tree requested.

Applications must be submitted by Friday January 6, 2023. Panel results will be announced in early Spring and the trees will be planted by contracted professionals several weeks later. At the time of planting, trees are typically 2” in diameter, approximately 8-10’ tall and are expected to grow to heights ranging from 20-100’ at maturity (depending upon tree species). The following species are available in the current cycle:

Large Shade Trees:

American Beech, American Sycamore, Red Oak, Scarlet Oak, Swamp White Oak, Sweetgum, White Oak, and Willow Oak

Medium Shade Trees: 

Bald Cypress, Black Gum, and Wild Black Cherry

The Program, in its 14th year, awards hundreds of trees annually. The review panel usually approves tree applications for open and sunny areas (particularly on the south or westerly property quadrants). Special consideration is given to locations where a previous canopy tree once stood.
I will again serve as the Lyon Park Civic Association coordinator to help consult on tree species, location within your yard, prepare and submit your application. Contact me by e-mail ( or phone (301-908-8204) and notify me of your interest. Together, we will schedule a time for me to visit your home (between December 26 and January 5), to evaluate the planting location and agree upon a tree species to request. I will submit your application with other Lyon Park neighbors. Most applications I submit are approved. Won’t you help replenish Lyon Park’s tree canopy by contacting me today?

Urban Heat Islands

By Elaine Simmons

As Arlington County increases its density of buildings and residents, more people can access our many benefits. However, growth also increases the possibility of the phenomenon known as the urban heat island effect: cities experience higher air temperatures than non-urban areas.

On average, cities tend to be 1–7°F warmer than non-urban areas around them during the daytime and 

as much as 5°F warmer at night. On a summer day, the sun can heat buildings, roofs, and cars to temperatures 50 degrees higher than the surrounding air. Urban air quality also suffers since more pollutants are pumped into the air in densely populated areas, and stagnant air conditions during heat waves can trap pollutants near the ground. 

Natural surfaces like trees and plants have cooling effects from shade and “evaporative cooling,” whereby evaporating water from vegetation absorbs heat (much like sweat cools the human body). Artificial surfaces such as roads and buildings that replace vegetation typically lack those cooling effects and instead absorb and re-emit more heat, which makes their surroundings warmer too. 

As the planet warms, urban heat islands will only intensify higher temperatures. To cope with higher temperatures, cars and buildings consume more energy for cooling—frequently via fossil fuels—which worsens air pollution and contributes to climate change. 

An important way to fight the urban heat island effect is to reintroduce vegetation. This includes planting trees, expanding parkland, and installing “green roofs” designed to support plants. Building cool roofs and  pavements—which have bright coatings that reflect more sunlight and, therefore, absorb less heat—also   can reduce the urban heat island effect. A model by the MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub estimated that, if widely implemented, cool pavements could reduce the frequency of heatwaves by 41% across all US urban areas.

As residents, a key thing we can do is plant and properly care for tough native shade trees (like oaks, sycamores, hickories, tulip trees). Those of us with shady yards know that tree cover makes a HUGE difference in how hot it feels. A friend in McLean with lots of shade trees has measured a 10-degree difference in his yard compared to nearby exposed areas. Next time you venture out, notice how much better streets and sidewalks with tall tree overhang feel and look compared to those that are sun-beaten. To get a free tree, including installation, contact the Tree Canopy Fund established by Ecoaction Arlington. You may also register for a free tree on Arlington County’s Urban Forestry Dept web page. Or visit your local garden center.

Let’s Recycle…Properly

Nearly all our residents participate in recycling, but many blue recycle bins contain items that don’t belong there. Plastic bags are a major no-no, since they get tangled in recycling machinery. Anything in plastic bags is discarded as trash. Here is a list of items that should not go in your blue recycle bin:

Does Not Belong in Blue Recycle BinWhere Can it Go?
Plastic bags, bubble wrapSelect grocery stores* take clean, dry plastic bags or put in trash
Glass of any kindPut in the big metal bin at the Quincy Recycling Dropoff on Washington Blvd, near W&L High School, or put in trash
Plastic less than 4 inchesGoes in the trash
Disposable drinking, coffee, and condiment plastic cups/tops and plastic platesGoes in the trash
StyrofoamFor the highly motivated recycler, EPS Recycling in Crofton MD takes Styrofoam. Google them for more info. They do not accept packing peanuts
Styrofoam packing peanutsParcel Plus in the Lee Harrison shopping center accepts packing peanuts for reuse. Other packaging/mailing stores may also
Food and food tainted paper productsPut all food and food tainted paper in your beige, countertop compost bin; transfer to your green yard waste bin for pickup
Wire hangersDrop off at select dry cleaners** if in good shape for reuse or put in the trash
Shredded paperGoes in the trash
Plastic eating utensils (e.g., forks)Drop clean utensils at The Lamb Center for the homeless in Fairfax City for reuse or put in put the trash
Electronic waste, kitchenwareSee Arlington county’s recycling website for more info
* Including Giant Food (3450 Washington Blvd) and Harris Teeter (600 N Glebe Rd)
**Including Hurt Cleaners (3410 Wilson Blvd)

Saving Our Diminishing Tree Canopy

By Anne Bodine

Several months ago, after a lively discussion at an LPCA meeting, the association’s co-presidents encouraged a group of Lyon Park tree lovers to form the Lyon Park Tree Group to explore how to save or boost our precious tree canopy. 

Our Canopy is Shrinking!  Lyon Park lost 11% of its canopy from 2011-2016, the highest percentage of any large civic association in Arlington. The canopy reduction from 2000-2016 was a worrisome 23%. Here are additional key facts that drive the mission of our group:  

Lyon Park Area and Tree Canopy

Total land area30 acres
Potential tree canopy cover59%
Actual tree canopy cover34%
Land area that could be covered with canopy but currently is not25%
Based on 2017 county data

Trees are vital to human and planetary health, and we need more, not less of them. Trees cool and raise the value of our homes, they absorb stormwater and pollutants, they control erosion, sequester carbon, offer stress relief/shade, and provide habitat for birds and other animals. Despite these crucial qualities, we are well below the landscape space that could be planted with trees. As the table above indicates, 25% of the land in Lyon Park could be covered with canopy but is not. 

To increase our canopy, the Lyon Park Tree Group has taken the following actions:

  1. Begun identifying lots where we will approach owners to ask if they would like to receive one of the free trees available through Arlington’s Tree Canopy Fund;
  2. Met with two Alexandria women who increased the canopy in their neighborhood by almost 300 trees via outreach to neighbors. We hope to launch a similar effort in mid-September; 
  3. Coordinated with the Virginia Department of Transportation and Arlington’s Urban Forestry Office to green a section of Route 50 near Cambridge Courts with 129 new trees;
  4. Created an interactive map of the trees in Lyon Park, showing approximate age and species/genus. We were helped by group member and Lyon Park tree steward Bill Anhut. We drew on a 100-year-old map showing the full scope of waterways – part of the Long Branch of the Potomac River – that transected the park back in the day. 

But the volunteer Tree Group can’t do this alone. Community involvement is key to restoring canopy. You can get new trees for free for your property through the Tree Canopy Fund, you can help get more trees planted on other properties, or you can volunteer to save trees via activities such as cutting invasives. Email if interested. Read the Arlington County Tree Canopy Report.

Our Solar Journey

By John Ausink

This is not about billionaires’ vanity projects in space, it is about the process of getting solar panels on our roof and dropping our electric bill to zero. Arlington County has, on average, 201 sunny days per year. Why let that sun go to waste?  Why not use it to save money and reduce your carbon footprint?

Our solar experience began when my spouse saw a sign in a neighbor’s yard with the name of the company that had installed their panels. I chatted with the neighbor and then contacted the company. 

To my initial irritation, the rep wanted our home address before we could set up an appointment. However, in our first Zoom call with the company, they produced an image of our home’s roof, showed the exact panel design, predicted the impact of the growth of our trees on energy production, and determined the exact cost–all in the first meeting!  We signed a contract in February, and the system was installed in May – a 10kW system with 25 panels. 

The Feds still allow a 26% tax credit for solar systems, so comparing the cost of the system (minus the credit) to our annual electric bill allowed us to calculate how many years it would take to “pay off” the upfront cost of the panels. There are two ways your personal electrical production can save you money:

  1. You will remain connected to your power company, but your electric meter will be changed to a “net meter.”  If your panels produce less electricity than you use, you will still draw (and pay for) power from the grid. If you produce more power than you use, the net meter puts it into the grid and your next bill will be reduced by the value of that electricity. In other words, you won’t get cash for over-producing, but you will get credit.
  2. You will be invited to sign a contract related to Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs). SRECs help utilities meet state regulations that require a certain percentage of electricity be produced from renewable sources. Power companies buy and sell them, and SRECs allow you to sell credits for the energy you produce.

Our system is easy to monitor with a cell phone application. Despite what my wife says, I do NOT check our energy production rates every day. Well, maybe sometimes. 

Be aware that several considerations will affect the financial impact of a solar system. First, since the panels have a guaranteed 25-year life, our company required a roof inspection before installation to make sure the solar panels won’t outlast the roof. Second, our house was built in 1920, and our electrical panel required an upgrade to accommodate the solar panels ($1800). Finally, we added an electric vehicle charger to the system ($2200) so the sun can power our future car as well. 

You can explore savings on your own by going to this website: Simply enter your home address and a map will show an image of your neighborhood, your roof, an estimate of annual savings on your electric bill and the reduction in your carbon footprint. I hope you will check out the website and consider how you might help the environment and your pocketbook.

Don’t Commit “Crepe Murder”!

By Elaine Simmons and Dean Amel

The gardening term “crepe murder” has been called the high crime of horticulture. If refers to turning crepe myrtles or other trees into ugly stumps by indiscriminately cutting the ends of healthy branches. This practice creates stress on the tree, can lead to decay, and destroys the natural form of the tree. No one should do this to any tree. 

Large shade trees should be pruned by reputable companies with trained arborists specializing in tree care; these are different from a lawn service. Smaller ornamentals are suitable for select trimming by owners, but it is important to know what you are doing. Websites such as the International Society of Arboriculture (Trees Are Good), extension services from universities such as Oregon State or Clemson, and even commercial websites such as Fiskers provide good information on basic principles of pruning: tools, techniques, when to trim and what to trim. 

You can also call a local arborist in for a walk-through for all your trees to learn more about what to trim and how. Some people hire consulting arborists, who are paid to evaluate your trees but not to do any tree work, because such professionals don’t have any incentive to recommend unnecessary tree work. If cost is an issue, you can Google Tree Stewards of Arlington and Alexandria, a group of volunteers who have gone through classroom and field training on how to plant and prune trees. Tree Stewards are not professionals and can’t advise on tree diseases and cannot do extensive pruning, but they love to give free advice.

Often the pruning problem starts when the tree is planted in the wrong place and gets bigger than the owner desires. Thus, it is important to know the mature size of trees before you install them, since no tree should be topped because it is too big.

What should you trim?  Weak, dead, or diseased wood is fair game. Crossing branches are also candidates for pruning. Very select trimming is also acceptable to increase air circulation and penetration of light. But please, the less you trim the better and be aware that poor pruning can wound a tree in such a way that it is damaged forever. Pruning can be like giving someone a bad haircut; there’s always one more cut you need to make. So please be careful and remember that it is much more expensive to remove a large ailing tree than it is to take proper care of it throughout its life.

When Your Windows Are A Pane

By Heidi Ananthakrishnan

Have you ever accidentally bumped into a glass door? You’re not the only one.

Bird collisions with glass kill up to a billion birds a year in the United States. After such an impact, birds usually die or face life-threatening injuries. These collisions mainly affect songbirds during their spring and fall migrations, when they are exhausted and hungry. We often do not see dead birds near windows because scavengers quickly consume them. According to the American Bird Conservancy (ABC), the only thing more lethal than window collisions are habitat loss and domestic cats. While we may imagine glass-covered skyscrapers to be the worst death traps for birds, half of all collisions occur on homes and buildings up to three stories in height. The other half mostly occur on buildings up to 11 stories. The reason birds collide closer to the ground is because they feed there. Glass that reflects vegetation is the most dangerous, as birds think they are flying toward trees or bushes. This often happens at windows located across from bird feeders, baths, or fruiting trees.

Thankfully, this is one conservation issue we can easily do something about. ABC identifies cost-effective retrofits to glass that do not impede the view from inside. One of the easiest fixes is the most common: window screens. Others run the gamut from decorative decals to frosted tape to stencil-rolled paint to stained glass. Even having your first-grader make pat- terns with a window crayon on the outside of the glass could save lives. The company Acopian Birdsavers sells cords that hang outside windows and sway in the breeze, adding an element of calming movement to an outdoor view.

Lyon Park sits in the path of the Atlantic Flyway, a major migratory bird route connecting Canadian Arctic breeding grounds with South America. The Audubon Society estimates 500 species of birds ply this aerial freeway. Birds have lost much habitat along this route due to development and deforestation, which has decimated their populations. North America has lost 29% of its birds since 1970. That is more than one in every four birds. With such battered populations, every bird we save is a feather in our cap.