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Cigarette butts pose litter problems
Keep Liberty County Beautiful
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Cigarette litter may be small but it is really nasty to me. In my mind, no litter is “good” litter, but there is nothing messier than seeing sidewalks and curbs “decorated” with cigarette butts, disposable lighters, matches and cigarette packaging. This is also a growing problem. Although it is small, cigarette litter is increasingly close to 20 percent of the collected litter items in community cleanups.  
Recent ordinances around the country have restricted smoking in public places and have forced smokers outside. Although these ordinances are certainly a positive step from a health standpoint, increased cigarette litter on sidewalks, parking lots and streets has been a consequence of this change.
Studies show people who would never consider tossing something like a beverage can or fast food packaging on the ground may very well drop cigarette litter without even thinking about it. Surprisingly, many smokers simply have not considered flicking a butt on the ground or out a car window as littering.  Well, it is litter, it is illegal, it has detrimental consequences for our environment and it is costly to clean up.
About 95 percent of cigarette filters are composed of cellulose acetate. That sounds tasty, doesn’t it? This is a form of plastic that does not quickly degrade. Estimates are cigarette butts can take from two to 24 years to decompose. When tossed on the ground, such litter can pose a health hazard for animals who mistake it for food. One research study estimates that 18 percent of all litter dropped on the ground is washed into streams, rivers, lakes and the ocean by stormwater runoff.
Cigarette butts are light and easily carried in runoff to our local waterways. Compounding this is many smokers mistakenly toss butts into storm drains thinking they will be processed and removed.  Rainwater and anything thrown in these drains actually go directly to our waters. So litter then pollutes our waters and again poses a health hazard for fish and other marine life that may mistake it for food.
Only 10 percent of used cigarette butts are deposited in litter receptacles, so I guess we know where the other 90 percent ends up.  Cigarette litter often accumulates around transition points — areas where a smoker has to extinguish and discard a cigarette before proceeding, such as designated smoking areas and entry points to stores, offices, restaurants and other public buildings.
Often, there are simply no ash receptacles available in these areas for disposal. So a simple fix can be to determine where receptacles are needed and place them in those areas.  Another simple fix is to make smokers aware there are portable ashtrays available for smokers to carry in their cars as well as the pocket ash-tray type. I still have some of these pocket ash trays available (for free) through a grant program from R J Reynolds that was recently discontinued. The pocket ash trays are hard plastic and a convenient size. So if you smoke or would like to get one for a smoker, give me a call.
The cleanup of cigarette litter is an increasingly significant expense for communities and businesses where this litter occurs. In cleanups, this type of litter is time-consuming to collect because of its small size. Longwood College in Virginia recently determined it costs $50,000 a year just to clean up cigarette litter. As a recent cleanup volunteer (and a smoker herself) from Georgia Power Company said, “I had just never realized that cigarette butts were litter and how much of a problem they are. But after trying to clean them up, I will never toss another one!”
So how do we get rid of this problem and how can you help?  
• Get the word out to those you know: Stop tossing cigarette litter on the ground.
• Get a pocket ash tray for a smoker friend, co-worker, family member or yourself.
• Businesses and public agencies should determine if they need to provide ash receptacles at entries and designated smoking areas.
• We also need to examine public areas and parks to make sure we are providing appropriately placed ash receptacles for use.
• We also need to encourage and support enforcement of litter ordinances to minimize litter in our community.
We can all make a difference in reducing cigarette litter in Liberty County. This is one of many ways we can make our community a cleaner, healthier and more attractive place to live and work.
For more information, contact me at 368-4888 or
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