By: Leah Henry
For most people, dropping candy or food wrappers on the ground feels wrong and although we have made great strides in litter control and behavior change, littering of cigarette butts and plastic cigar tips continues to be commonplace. Look around the next time you’re walking down any street and you will find them.
According to data collected by the Alliance for the Great Lakes through Adopt-a-Beach (AAB) cleanups in 2013, Northeast Ohio reported the most plastic cigar tips found during cleanups in the Great Lakes region. Plastic cigar tips accounted for 37% of the total trash collected.
AAB found that smoking-related litter, including cigarette butts, butane lighters, cigars tips, and tobacco packaging, accounted for 58% of all marine debris items collected on South Carolina beaches in 2013; cigarette butts alone accounted for 55% of all items. That translated to a total of 30,987 cigarette butts (South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control – Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management).
In a study conducted by Keep America Beautiful (Schultz and Stein 2009) their results found that 37.7% of the litter found on U.S. roadways was tobacco products and that the overall littering rate nationally is 65% for cigarette butts. During the NOAA Marine Debris Program Great Lakes Educator Workshop in Ohio, a handful of educators managed to collect 58 cigar tips and 27 cigarettes/filters in two hours, on a short stretch of beach.
Where do they all go? Runoff flows into rivers and streams, bringing cigarette butts discarded on land into the marine environment, where they can impact marine organisms and habitats.
Cigarette butts are made of plastic (cellulose acetate to be exact), not cotton, as is sometimes thought. And like other forms of plastic, they do not biodegrade, and can persist in the environment for a long time. Additionally, consumption of cigarette butts by unsuspecting marine organisms can lead to death through choking or starvation. They also contain toxins that can leech into the environment. Some studies have shown that these toxins can have harmful effects on aquatic organisms, and yet, cigarette butts continue to be littered in huge quantities.
What can you do? Organize cleanups in your local community and log your findings with the Marine Debris Tracker App! Engage your friends, family, and community in spreading awareness about litter. And if you smoke, place it in a proper receptacle (Terracycle: Cigarette Waste Brigade).