ATLANTA - Advance disposal fees for packaging have little support from the public, even in Florida, where the concept has become law, according to a survey by the Council on Packaging in the Environment. An equal number of Floridians - 36 percent - know their state imposes an advance disposal fee as do not; the remainder were uncertain whether they had heard of the fee. Some Florida residents support a 1 cent ADF. But when told it was to increase to 2 cents Jan. 1, they opposed it nearly 2-to-1, according to the COPE survey, conducted Dec. 15-18.
The ADF discussion was a high point of a survey whose cumulative results over a two-year period show a steady decline in the number of Americans who think the environment is improving. The results also show that younger respondents are more likely to think the quality of the environment is worsening.
Florida is the only state with an ADF, a charge levied at the checkout counter on a packaged item out of a belief that someone eventually will have to pay for the disposal of its package. Several COPE convention speakers noted that California, Colorado, Oregon and Minnesota, among others, may attempt to invoke such fees this year to bolster local coffers and offset federal funding cutbacks.
The fact that the same percentage of Floridians know about the existence of the ADF as do not indicated to some convention attendees that the ADF is a``hidden tax'' on consumers.
The survey also shows that 12 percent of respondents nationwide believe their state has such a charge on disposable items, though only Florida does. Only 17 percent - mostly in the South - had actually heard of an advance disposal fee when the concept was described generically as a fee ``on products whose packages or containers are not being recycled enough.''
And 39 percent of all respondents oppose such a fee ``strongly.'' Non-Florida residents reacted even more severely. Some 66 percent of the general sample strongly opposed the tax when told its intention was to fund general government.
The poll results were unveiled Jan. 26 at COPE's annual meeting in Atlanta by Deborah A. Cross, manager of customer marketing for Coca-Cola USA in Atlanta. The survey results were the fifth in a series of random sample telephone queries for the National Environmental Study of Consumers, sponsored by COPE and prepared by the polling firm of Penn + Schoen Associates Inc. of New York.
The December survey of 2,006 American consumers allowed a margin of error of 3.1 percent for all respondents, higher for subgroups. Cross noted that the figures reflect consumers' stated beliefs about recycling, but not necessarily their actual behavior.
Earlier surveys were held in November 1992, March 1993, September 1993 and February 1994.
COPE President A. Steven Young expressed confidence in the latest findings, in part due to their consistency with earlier findings.
In general, the survey's findings indicate little nationwide popular support of an ADF. In stark contrast, however, the survey also showed 23 percent of respondents believe companies are doing a poor job of providing environmentally sound packaging. That figure has varied, from 21 percent in March 1993 to 19 percent in September 1993 and 16 percent in February 1994.
Forty-four percent of the latest set of respondents said companies are doing only a fair job of providing such packaging.
Other findings in the latest COPE survey indicate that:
Since September 1993, there has been a ``slow but steady decline'' in the number of Americans who say the quality of the environment is improving.
Only 1 percent of respondents to the latest survey series said the environment is the most important problem facing the nation, about equal to the percentage of the last poll, in February 1994.
The number of respondents who specifically would choose recyclable packaging has grown steadily, from 54 percent to 70 percent, over the two-year span of questioning.
Some 23 percent of Americans expect to pay more for goods in recycled packaging, up from 19 percent in March 1993.
When asked the open-ended question - ``What is the most serious environmental question facing the country?'' - air pollution ranked first, mentioned by 23 percent of respondents. Household trash disposal ranked fifth of the 10 general answers, at 6 percent - down from 7 percent as measured in last year's poll.