In the past decade, cigarette smoking in America has decreased 28 percent, yet cigarette butts still remain the most littered item in the U.S. and across the globe.
It is simple: Dropping cigarette butts and cigar tips on the ground, putting them in planters and disposing of them in waterways is littering.
According to the 2009 Keep America Beautiful Research Litter in America, the littering rate for cigarette butts is 65 percent and tobacco products comprise 38 percent of all U.S. roadway litter. Much of it ends up being washed or blown into our waterways. The Ocean Conservancy’s 2012 International Coastal Cleanup statistics says cigarette butts are the most littered item, representing 32 percent of all items collected.
So, why do smokers litter? Most often (at least, I would like to believe this), it is a lack of awareness about the environmental impact of cigarette litter. The lack of available ash receptacles is also cited by some studies. Recent ordinances have also moved more smokers outdoors or to designated areas, and over the past decade auto makers have phased out ash trays in new cars.
Here is why littering cigarette butts and cigar tips is a concern: They are unsightly, nasty, costly to clean up and harmful to waterways and wildlife.
When it comes to cigarette butt litter, we all pay. Taxpayers and businesses "pick up" the tab. Cigarette litter requires additional sidewalk and street sweeping, greenway and park maintenance, storm drain cleaning and increased maintenance of storm water filters. And business owners bear the expense of cleaning around their property. In fact, litter cleanup costs the U.S. more than $11.5 billion annually and businesses pay 80 percent of that, or about $9.1 billion. Just guess who they have to pass those costs to.
About 95 percent of cigarette filters are composed of cellulose acetate, a plastic that does not quickly degrade and can persist in the environment up to two or more years in modest estimates.
Thank goodness for groups like our local American Red Cross and other local organizations that are helping us fight cigarette litter. These volunteers are not only picking up cigarette litter and counting it, they are also monitoring sites near two gates to Fort Stewart to see if the awareness campaign is making a difference in the accumulation of cigarette litter in these areas. In the first litter scans on Veteran’s Parkway in 2013, they collected about 10,000 butts! In a recent scan, volunteers collect about 6,000. So there has been about a 30 percent reduction in the amount of litter since 2013.
We also try to raise awareness through campaigns at the gates and other locations by giving out information on the problems, as well as free pocket ashtrays and car ashtrays to smokers. These items have been provided by a small grant provided by Keep America Beautiful to help reduce cigarette litter in these targeted areas.
So the next time you see a clean curb or sidewalk, remember that cigarette butts are litter, too so don’t flick it!
Swida is director of Keep Liberty Beautiful