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Got green guilt? Survey shows more Americans feel they should be doing more for the environment

Published: Thursday, April 19 2012 8:00 p.m. MDT

The Wasatch Integrated Waste Management District holds its grand opening for its recycling drop-off facility in Layton on June 2, 2010.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — A new national survey shows "green guilt" has doubled among Americans over the last three years, with an increasing number of people conceding they could and should be doing more to help the environment.

The survey by Call2Recycle highlights that the increase in green guilt is accompanying the escalating amount of electronic waste, which represents the fastest growing municipal waste stream in the United States. Released in advance of Earth Day Sunday, the survey demonstrates a sense of growing obligation among Americans to recycle, said the group's president Carl Smith.

According to the survey, more than half of Americans — 57 percent — say they have old electronics they need to discard — such as cellphones, computers, TVs, cordless phones and batteries. The downside is that 44 percent of the 1,041 respondents reported that not knowing where or how to rid themselves of the technology is the No. 1 barrier to recycling.

Stacy Ford Mahoskey, an information technology specialist in Ogden, is among Utah residents who admits to suffering from green guilt, even though she says she tries to be as conscientious as she can about recycling electronic equipment.

In the past, she's donated unwanted cellphones to the local elementary school and taken old computers to an area thrift store.

"I have a couple of old computers sitting in my basement that I would love to throw away, but I have not," she said. "They're old, with the big CRT monitors that are the ones people are concerned about because they're bad for the environment."

While she plans to unload them through a work recycling program, the Davis County mother of three boys concedes she's unsure of what to do with a television that no longer works.

"It's irritating to have it there but I don't know what to do with it other than to take it to the Deseret Industries," she said. "But I am not sure what they would do with it, either."

Rose Ellis can relate to Mahoskey's dilemma.

"I have an old computer and monitor that has been collecting dust for three years," she said. "I don't know what to do with them. If I did, I'd donate them or something."

The same goes for a "drawer full of cellphones," Ellis said. "I don't throw them away because I know they're bad for the environment."

Not knowing what to do with E-waste, beyond being the No. 1 barrier to recycling in the first place, also came in as the top reason people do not recycle more often, according to 32 percent of those surveyed. Next up was lack of time, with 26 percent, followed by 24 percent who blamed it on their own procrastination or not being able to afford it.

Ellis, a single mother who lives in North Salt Lake, said recycling options need to be more broadly promoted and made more convenient for those with a tight time budget.

"I don't even know where and if there are collection bins," she said, adding she uses those routinely to pass along used clothing for others in need.

"The bins make it easy," while collection events would most likely coincide with her schedule as a traffic controller on street projects, she said.

Overall, the survey found that women more than men — 32 percent compared to 25 percent — are more likely to suffer from green guilt.

Call2Recycle, operated by a nonprofit group, is the only free rechargeable battery and cellphone collection program in North America and since 1996, it has diverted more than 70 million pounds of rechargeable batteries from local landfills. The group has also established a network of 30,000 recycling drop-locations.

Earlier this month, Simply Mac, the Utah-based Apple specialist and retailer, collected 250,000 pounds of e-waste in a two-day event at the Maverik Center in West Valley City.

On Friday, The University of Utah will host an e-waste recycling event from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the parking lot of the University Services Building. The public can bring old computers, cell phones and other electronic equipment. Sponsored by Samsung Electronics, University IT, the Office of Sustainability and Salt Lake Valley Health Department, the event is free and open to the public.

E-mail: amyjoi@desnews.com, Twitter: amyjoi16

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