Cigarette Butt Litter

12-7-15 Cigarette Butt Bust

If you pick up litter or notice the sidewalks, streets and yards during your strolls around town, I imagine you agree – Cigarette Butts and cigarette packaging are quite prevalent.  Unfortunately, discarded cigarette butts aren’t only unsightly, they are a fire risk and toxic for the environment! The picture above is what I captured after meeting my goal of “1000 Less”!

Cellulose-acetate filters, a plastic product, was added to cigarettes in the 1950s as a marketing tool. Scientific evidence suggested cigarettes caused lung cancer and other serious diseases.  The tobacco industry claimed filtered cigarettes were “safe” since they reduced tar and nicotine consumption.  Consequently over the last 50 years 99% of the smokers switched to filtered cigarettes.

Regardless of the filters, cigarettes are highly addictive and remain toxic to one’s health.  They not only pollute the air while being manufactured and smoked, they also pose a serious toxic waste litter problem.  As reported in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, under ideal conditions, ultraviolet rays from the sun eventually break the filters into smaller pieces but they still don’t go away – they only photo-degrade.  Consequently they become diluted in water or soil.  Just a few cigarette butts wouldn’t be much of a concern but the statistics are astounding.  The American Cancer Society reports 5.6 trillion filtered cigarettes were consumed worldwide in 2002 and they project 9 trillion by 2025.  The US Dept of Agriculture reports the US alone manufactured 1.35 trillion filtered cigarettes in 2007 which resulted in an estimate of 1.69 billion pounds of cigarette butt litter worldwide per year.

Unfortunately, a very small percentage of this litter gets picked up.  Consequently discarded cigarette butts on streets, sidewalks, and other public areas pollute the soil or are carried off as runoff to drains.  The butts contain carcinogens, chemicals that leach in the soil and poison the wildlife.  They also pollute our streams, rivers and oceans making a toxic environment for fish and micro-organisms.  Keep America Beautiful reports in 2009, 38 percent of all collected litter from roadways and streets were tobacco products. The Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup reported cigarette butts as the single most recovered item, 31 percent of all debris collected in 2010, over one million removed.

How are we going to get these butts under control?  Here are some strategies that could be quite effective.

Education – Spread the word to smokers that Cigarette Butts are litter.  Better funded smoking cessation programs would help decrease the number of smokers and butts.

Pick-Up – Pick up the cigarette butts and packaging litter already out there, then keep picking up.

Cigarette Butt Receptacles – The City and Businesses need to take the lead by providing and maintaining receptacles where people commonly smoke.

Fines – Better enforcement of fines for littering

Decrease the Butts –History has shown raising cigarette prices is the best way to prevent and reduce smoking.  The nation’s highest rate is NYC at $5.85/pack, median tax rate is $1.34 per pack and Missouri’s is 17 cents!  It’s no surprise the Dept. of Health & Senior Services reports MO has the 9th highest smoking rate in the nation – 25 percent of adults and more than 18 percent of high school students.  No wonder we have so many cigarette butts!!  The health ramifications alone is quite scary.  We have an active group in our community, Breathe Easy Boonville, working toward a smoke-free ordinance in our town. Our small community isn’t naturally proactive, so it has been a bit of a struggle, but we won’t give up.

Efforts being made in public spaces – Some municipalities have banned smoking on beaches.  Due to concerns about both litter and second-hand smoke, both California and New York have recently attempted to pass legislation banning smoking in all their state parks and beaches.

Other possibilities being explored –

NYC just recently barred cigarette sales to anyone under 21!

Tobacco Industry Accountability – The FDA could force the tobacco industry to improve the biodegradability of filters, educate their consumers and reduce packaging waste.

Deposits/Fees/Taxes – Some suggest implementing a “butt deposit” similar to bottle deposit programs, then figuring out how to recycle butts into other products.  Others suggest a cigarette waste fee similar to electronic waste fees. Taxes on cigarette products or fines against cigarette manufacturers could partially compensate for the costs of cleaning up the cigarette waste.

So, let’s continue to work together picking up butts, not tossing butts, even better yet, stop smoking!  We are all better off without them!

Cigarette butts : Stock Photo

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