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Sustainability: The Inconvenient Truth About Idolizing Green Celebs

In case you hadn't noticed, celebrities have focused a lot of attention on the environment lately. Fans and critics alike are still talking about Live Earth, and the Discovery Channel just announced a new Planet Green network to launch in 2008 with programming produced by Leonardo DiCaprio. Not to mention all the Hollywood A-listers who act as unofficial spokespeople for the Prius. Ostensibly, all this media attention has galvanized all us regular folk to do more to help the environment.

However, it's one thing to say you care about the effect you have on the environment and quite another to actually change what you do in everyday life. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau from 2005, 77 percent of Americans drive to work alone every day. Less than 5 percent take public transportation, a statistic that has changed little since 2000. Of the 10.7 percent who carpool, over three quarters ride with only one other person.

That adds up to a lot of miles, a lot of gas and a lot of excess carbon emissions. I can't say I remember any celebrities talking about driving less or driving to work with their costars instead of alone. I guess carpooling just isn't as trendy as owning a hybrid. (For those who read my post last week, I really don't have anything against hybrids. I just don't think they're the end-all answer to all our environmental problems.)

Some interesting facts from the Census: 13 percent of Boston residents walk to work, compared to 2.5 percent nationally. Then again, who would want to drive in Boston? Also, Portland, Ore. has seven times the number of bicycle commuters as the rest of the country (3.5 percent versus 0.4 percent).

I suppose it's possible Americans may have changed their driving habits slightly since 2005, but a Harris poll conducted last month shows nearly a quarter still do not recycle anything in their homes. Moreover, those aged 18-30, the people one would assume are paying the most attention to celebrities' environmental rants, are the least likely to recycle. Not surprisingly, individuals on the East and West Coasts recycle most, with those in the Midwest and South falling a bit behind the national average.

What surprised me is that almost half of Americans don't recycle glass bottles. How is that more difficult than metal cans or plastic (which fares only slightly better)? Overall, people said the biggest obstacle to recycling is it's not available in their area, especially a problem in the South. Perhaps they just don't know where to go - Earth 911 has a search on their site to find recycling centers in your area for everything from glass bottles to motor oil.

I'm embarrassed to learn that 26 percent of people on the East Coast don't recycle because it takes too much effort. Then again, there are recycling bins right in my building for metal cans, glass, plastic and paper. I've never recycled some of the other items Harris asked about, like electronics and batteries.

How do you get to work? If you drive alone, what prevents you from carpooling or taking public transportation? What kinds of things do you recycle? What is recycling like in your community?

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