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Mark Dolliver's Takes: Let the Planet Save Itself

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Amid chatter about saving the planet, it doesn't hurt to get a reality check on what people actually do. And it turns out many Americans skip one of the most basic eco-friendly practices: recycling. While majorities say they recycle cans, paper, plastic and glass bottles, you can gather from the chart here—using new Harris Poll data—that lots do not. Asked to cite the "main barrier" that keeps them from recycling, about one-fourth had a decent excuse, like "not available in our area" (15 percent). But others were brazen in saying "it takes too much effort" (12 percent), "I am to busy" (6 percent) or "it is too difficult" (5 percent). Twelve percent opt out because "it costs more to recycle where I live," 11 percent "don't believe it makes an impact or difference" and 17 percent are "not sure" what stops them. It's a good bet these people will be lukewarm to ads that stress environmental action.

One surprise: Young folks are more likely than their elders to be non-recyclers. Thirty percent of 18-30-year-olds recycle "nothing," vs. 20 percent of 31-42s, 23 percent of 43-61s and 19 percent of those 62-plus. Other recent polls show a similar pattern. WSL Strategic Retail asked people if they are doing things in their homes to save energy. Sixty-five percent of the 18-34s said they are, vs. 85 percent of those 55-plus. Ipsos Reid found 47 percent of 18-34s have done little or nothing to reduce greenhouse gases by making their homes more energy efficient, vs. 24 percent of those 55-plus. While advertisers tend to treat young people as environmentally attuned, they may be neglecting a market of green geezers.