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Actor Crams for Test : Environment: Ed Begley Jr. said a week’s worth of his discards would fit in a glove compartment. Can he make good on his boast, or was he just talking trash?

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Just the day before, environmentally vigilant actor Ed Begley Jr. had stood before the five Los Angeles County supervisors, arguing that there would be no need for more landfills if everyone followed his example and discarded only enough trash each week to fill a glove compartment.

And now, to prove that it was no idle boast, Begley was straining to cram a week’s worth of household trash into the tiny glove compartment of his battery-powered Volkswagen Rabbit.

“This has got to be the smallest goddamn glove box in the history of man,” said Begley, an environmental activist best known for his role as a doctor on the television series “St. Elsewhere.” “This is the one time I wish I owned a Buick Le Sabre.”

On Tuesday, Begley had ridden his bicycle 13 miles from Studio City to Downtown to argue against the Sunshine Canyon landfill north of Granada Hills and in support of recycling.

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“I throw away one glove compartment’s worth of trash every week,” Begley boasted. “I know it’s doable.”

Sniffed Supervisor Ed Edelman’s spokesman: “Dramatic hyperbole.”

Was Begley’s boast fiction or fact?

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The Times went to his Studio City home Wednesday to throw down the gauntlet. Given scant warning of the visit, Begley swore he had not squirreled away any trash to reduce the load. But he had taken the time to slip into a Greenpeace web belt, white T-shirt and jeans, laundered, of course, with nonphosphate detergent, one of the many environmentally correct products he stocks.

“It all begins right here,” said Begley, pointing to three cardboard cartons resting on his wood floor underneath a desk. He sorts every scrap of paper that passes through the door of the one-story, solar-powered ranch house with its drought-resistant front lawn, where he lives alone except for frequent visits from his two teen-age children and his girlfriend.

To reduce the flow of junk mail, he calls every company that sends him a catalogue and asks to be taken off the mailing list. About once a month, Begley hops into his $12,000 electric car and drives over to a Sun Valley recycler to sell the boxes of colored paper, white paper and uncorrugated cardboard.

Charging into his kitchen, reporter in pursuit, Begley picks over his kitchen trash before emptying it into a larger white bag (made of recycled plastic, naturally): a plastic oatmeal cookie wrapper, an empty bag of brown rice. No problem there. But, Begley scowls, what are these objects taking up so much room?

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“My girlfriend was over. I’m not responsible for this milk carton,” Begley said. “And my kids had some cream cheese that went bad, that’s why this thing is here.”

Conspicuously absent from Begley’s trash cans are the frozen food packages with their microwaveable trays that many harried Angelenos rely on for sustenance--which cannot be recycled. “I have a microwave,” Begley said, “but the most I use it for is maybe to heat up a tofu dog. I grow most of my own food.”

Then it’s out toward the garden, with a quick peek at the yellow bin provided by the city for aluminum cans, glass bottles and other recyclable materials. “God smiled at me . . . by making me part of one of the city’s first recycling pilot programs,” Begley said, caressing the yellow plastic bin.

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But Begley’s real pride and joy is a brown mound of decaying yard trimmings and tomato skins lying just outside his back door. His compost heap produces enough soil to replenish the beds of corn, beets and tomatoes that take up almost every square inch of his spacious back yard.

By now, Begley has collected enough trash to fill the white plastic bag to a depth of about seven bulging inches. He hurries through the garden to the garage, where his taupe electric car is recharging with its hood up, on the way compulsively squeezing the bag to condense the load.

Sitting down in the passenger seat, Begley pops open the glove compartment, which is the size of a small breadbox. He takes a deep breath and, using both hands, tries to cram the bag in. It doesn’t fit.

But the indefatigable actor has one more trick up his sleeve. Well, actually, up his pants. Propping his legs up on the glove compartment, Begley shoves with the force of leg muscles that have bicycled countless times over the Sepulveda Pass. The bottom of the glove box actually bulges as the bursting bag squeezes in centimeter by centimeter.

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“It fits!” Begley shouts triumphantly, slamming shut the glove box before the garbage can escape. “I didn’t really know if I could do it.”


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