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But Some Confused About Eco-Choices

By Barbara Kessler

Ever wonder what your neighbors are doing on the green front – what with one fellow dragging four nicely sorted recycling bins to the curb every other week, and another seemingly sitting out the green movement?

So did the Nature Conservancy and the people running the Harris Poll. They collaborated on a poll that found about half of Americans (53 percent) are making green changes, but a significant number (Americans are shopping for local food34 percent) said they’ve not made any changes because they are confused about what to do. Another large group (29 percent) said they are not making changes because it won’t make any difference.

Education seemed to play a role in who was confused, fatalistic or moving toward more sustainable practices. Just under half of high school educated respondents (46 percent) said they had made green changes as compared with college educated adults (65 percent).

Of the total 53 percent who had made changes, the poll elicited these responses:

  • 91 percent of respondents said they are recycling
  • 73 percent are paying bills online
  • 49 percent are trying to buy locally-produced food and/or goods
  • 47 percent are buying green household products
  • 39 percent are bringing their own reusable bags to stores instead of using paper or plastic ; and 30 percent are discontinuing the purchase of plastic water bottles
  • 31 percent are buying more used products
  • 16 percent are carpooling
  • 10 percent “have considered” or “have become” a vegetarian
  • 5 percent are driving less by combining errands, walking more, etc.
  • 4 percent have reduced their utility use
  • 3 percent have purchased hybrid cars
  • 3 percent have changed out incandescent light bulbs for compact fluorescent ones.
  • 2 percent said they are conserving water

While the numbers for recycling and paying bills online are robust, the smaller percentages for “reducing utility use” and changing out light bulbs are relatively small. Leaving us to wonder: What is going on? People are using paperless billing, but not bothering to adjust the thermostat and upgrade light bulbs – changes that can quickly save them serious hard cash?

The Harris Interactive online poll of 2,605 adults gives us some clues with its findings showing so many adults (34 percent) “did not know what to do.” Another 19 percent cited expense as a reason for not making changes – certainly understandable when it comes to buying a hybrid, but perhaps those CFLs, which cost more upfront but last longer than incandescents, also are not being adopted for this reason.
According to the Nature Conservancy, which advised Harris on the poll, green noise is partly to blame.

The poll shows “green living is certainly at the forefront of our minds,” says Stephanie Meeks, acting president and CEO of The Nature Conservancy. “Yet people are getting lost in the maze of information on how to lessen our environmental impact.”

People may be confused about more than that. The high percentage of self-reported recyclers in the Harris Poll is out of sync with other information that indicates Americans are not aggressively recycling. Industrial recycling companies, for example, report a chronic shortage of used PET plastic, the top recyclable plastic which has multiple post-market uses.

According to the Container Recycling Institute, the amount of PET plastic (used in soda bottles and milk jugs) being recycled has been mostly stagnant for years, and accounts for between 20 and 25 percent of all the PET plastic being manufactured and sold in the United States (though the latest figures are three years old).

Somewhere along the line, a high proportion of bottles are not making it into the recycling stream. Perhaps Americans are leisurely hit-and-miss recyclers, failing to make a holistic sweep through the house for #1 and #2 plastics? Or maybe businesses and schools are not diligent on this front?

These are questions the Harris Poll did not ask.

But the poll did contain hope for those wanting to see America become more enlightened in green matters.

While only 30 percent of respondents over age 63 said they were familiar with the term “environmental sustainability,” nearly half (46 percent) of those ages 18-43 had heard the phrase.

Copyright © 2008 | Distributed by Noofangle Media