"Up To Her Neck In Solid Waste..."
When the first Earth Day was organized in 1970, the U.S. environmental movement had already begun to gain traction across the country. This was true for Arlington, where civic activists and county leaders began to incorporate environmental assessment into the work of the County Board.
Ruth “Cas” Cocklin, a former president of the Arlington League of Women Voters and an active member of the effort to reform the juvenile justice system, served on the Board’s first Environmental Improvement Commission.
In this clip, Ms. Cocklin explains the early goals of the Commission and her own interest in recycling.
NARRATOR: Ruth C. Cocklin
INTERVIEWER: Edmund Campbell
DATE: November 9, 1989
RCC: About 1972 or '73, Joe Fisher, who was somewhat of an environmentalist, wanted to set up an environmental commission of some sort within the county.
EC: Joe Fisher at that time was a member of the Arlington County Board.
RCC: The Arlington County Board. And there were nine of us on the Commission. The first thing we decided to do was to do an environmental survey of the County which had never been done. It took us almost all year and we divided up into different sectors. Someone doing water, someone doing air, someone doing this that and the other thing, and I chose solid waste because I was interested in newspaper separation and I wanted to see how this worked out. So we published a thick paperback report which is still good reading. We really went very thoroughly into everything, into the quality of the streams in Arlington, into run off into the streams, into all sorts of things.
And as far as solid waste was concerned, into how the trash was picked up at the curb, what happened at the transfer station in South Arlington and then what occurred when it went on to Lorton, the costs, and what possibilities there were for separation.
EC: Am I correct, that some of your friends say you were up to your neck in solid waste?
RCC: Well, Ann Cadman, who is still writing for local papers, did a story for the Northern Virginia Sun on me and my activities, this was when I was involved in newspaper separation, and headlined it, "Up To Her Neck In Solid Waste", which my husband didn't think was particularly good.
There was a great awareness that we needed to reduce the amount of solid waste. We have had a very, very extravagant lifestyle, of packaging things elaborately, throwing all this stuff away; people don't reuse things and in terms of newspapers and in terms of beverage containers, we were particularly anxious to do something.
Finally, I think this was going to come up in the County Board sometime in the late summer and so we got a bunch of volunteers and developed a questionnaire saying "Are you familiar with the need for separation of newspapers?" I don't know whether that was the question, on newspaper separation, "Would you be willing to separate your newspapers? Do you think this should be compulsory or should it be voluntary? Should the County Board do something on this?" We called six hundred Arlington residents. We debated whether to use the voters list or the tax payers list and finally we just used the telephone book. We figured that that would get a wider variety of people.
EC: You mean you telephoned six hundred people?
RCC: Yes. I mean we had a number of people but they were all using the same questions. We telephoned 600. We did it at random on certain pages. We just pulled out certain pages.
So we had people in apartments as well as people in homes. We called 600 people and were absolutely astounded with the results. There were about 10 people, who said, "That's silly", and down went the phone. There were about 20 people who didn't care one way or the other, really didn't have an opinion. The rest of the people said, "Why hasn't Arlington done this before, Alexandria's doing it," and they'd mention someplace in Massachusetts they knew of that was doing it or someplace in Michigan or whatever. "This is silly that we're not doing it." I think, Joe Wholey kept asking us, "Now where did you get this list? What were the questions asked?" and we kept giving him the information and I think he finally was convinced that perhaps people, the citizens, had moved ahead of the elected officials.
You can find Ruth Cas Cocklin’s interview in its entirety in the Center for Local History - VA 975.5295 A7243oh ser.3 no.33. Photo: Boy Scout Troup 622, trash bags, Cleanorama sign
Source: PG 200 Subject Photograph Collection, Series 22 Cleanorama 1972, 200-0904
The goal of the Arlington Voices project is to showcase the Center for Local History’s oral history collection in a publicly accessible and shareable way.
From June 2017 – May 2018, we will post one oral history clip and transcript each month, focusing on Arlington’s history, culture and identity.
What is the oral history collection?
Oral history is a popular method of research used for understanding historical events, actors, and movements from the point of view of people’s personal experiences.
The Arlington Public Library began collecting oral histories of long-time residents in the 1970s, and since then the scope of the collection has expanded to capture the diverse voices of Arlington’s community. In 2016, staff members and volunteers recorded many additional hours of interviews, building the collection to 575 catalogued oral histories.
To browse our list of narrators indexed by interview subject, check out our community archive. To read a full transcript of an interview, visit the Center for Local History located at Central Library.