We know what you’re thinking. “Horrible title for a blog.” We know, right? But get your heads out of the gutter, and while you’re coming up, bring some cigarette litter with you.
When we talk about litter, we talk about bottles and cans, fast food wrappers, and other things people carelessly toss out of their windows or discard onto the sidewalk. The smallest and most insignificant piece of litter, however, contributes a surprisingly large amount to litter in Virginia, and all over our country. You likely pass by it unnoticed on your daily commute or as you walk our city streets.
Cigarette butts are litter too.
Our friends at Keep America Beautiful have taken a long look at this and found that it represents 38% if all roadway trash, over a third of the litter in our storm drains, and over a third of the litter in our parks and public places. “But, wait. Tobacco is a natural plant and a cigarette butt is mostly paper,” you might argue. This is true, but the rest of the butt (and those plastic cigar tips) are not. In addition to the pesticides and carcinogens in smoking tobacco, cigarette filters are made with cellulose acetate, a plastic that will not biodegrade in any reasonable period of time. All of this affects fish and wildlife as it travels from storm-to-stream, and it impacts businesses.
It also just looks darned unsightly.
John Deuel, our longtime friend, ally, and now project leader, said, “Cigarette butt litter causes problems for the image and aesthetic beauty of both a built environment and a natural environment. It impacts both environment and economics. The key to this project is to focus our efforts where people smoke so we capture the most cigarette butt litter possible.”
Volunteers are currently fanning out across Richmond to launch “Your Butt is Bigger Than You Think.” They’ll talk to smokers, spread special messages, and evaluate the level of litter around our capitol city. Keep America Beautiful is pitching in with cigarette butt bins for problem areas, we’ll be handing out pocket ashtrays, and give drivers ashtrays for their cars. As they identify problem areas, we’ll ask for your help to get them cleaned up.
The point of all of this is not to make people stop smoking. It’s like enjoying an adult beverage. Much like there are places and times where you can or cannot drink, there are times you can or cannot smoke. Most importantly, when you’re done with that adult beverage or relaxing smoke, put your trash where it belongs.
Deuel started a similar effort in Hampton Roads last summer. His Butt Detectives looked at seven different sites, from transit centers to parks and found over 3,600 discarded butts. Imagine that spread out across an entire city!
After three months of cleanups, advocacy, and messaging, cigarette litter in the targeted areas was reduced by 74%. The national average for these sorts of programs is only 48%!
So what can you do?
- If you’re a smoker, find someplace to park you butt before you need to flick.
- If you’re a business owner, help your smokers by providing a convenient receptacle.
- Start your own program! Visit Keep America Beautiful for some useful tools.
If you want to help us make an impact, visit our Make A Difference page.
Talk to your friends. Educate your smoking buddies. Do the right thing with your butt. Don’t be one.