Put out your cigarettes, then put ’em in the trash!
According to the Cigarette Litter Prevention Program (CLPP), a Keep America Beautiful Initiative, cigarette butts are still the most littered item in the US despite the steep decline in smoking rates in recent decades. One problem the CLPP found is that many smokers don’t think of cigarettes as “litter,” perhaps due to their small size, but littered butts are a huge problem:
- A high percentage of all the cigarettes Americans smoke end up as litter – the CLPP estimates 65% do. Given the Federal Trade Commission has calculated that, “In 2014 [the most recent year for which data have been published], the five major domestic cigarette manufacturers sold 253.8 billion cigarettes [in the US].” At a rate of 65%, that would mean almost 165 billion butts ended up as litter!
- Most cigarettes aren’t just tobacco wrapped in paper. They typically have filters, and most filters are made from a type of plastic called cellulose acetate. Cellulose acetate sticks around, taking between 18 months and 10 years to decompose, depending on conditions.
- Cigarettes also contain hazardous substances – including the toxic metals cadmium, lead and arsenic – that pollute the soil and water when butts are littered. These substances are in both the tobacco and the filters, which trap some of the pollutants in cigarette smoke.
- Because butts are small, they are accidentally ingested by wild animals.
- Littered cigarettes are ugly.
- Another contributing factor to cigarette litter is the decision by automakers to stop including ashtrays as standard equipment in automobiles. Without a place to extinguish and then dispose of their butts, many who smoke while driving toss them out the window.
How you can help reduce cigarette litter
If you smoke:
- Be sure to carry a pocket ashtray so you always have a safe and responsible way to dispose of your butts.
- If you smoke while driving, install a car ashtray. Most are made to fit cup holders, and there are even smokeless versions available to help prevent the car’s interior from absorbing the cigarette smell.
Even if you don’t:
- If you feel comfortable doing so, share this information with any smokers you know, and make sure they’re aware of pocket and car ashtrays.
- If you have a business, install ashtrays in appropriate locations so smokers have a safe place to put their cigarettes out before entering the building.
- If you frequent a business that has a problem with cigarette litter, encourage them to install ashtrays at their entrances.
Storm drains are intended to funnel rainfall and snowmelt to area creeks, streams and rivers and are not connected to wastewater treatment plants. That means any litter, pet waste, chemicals and other pollutants that end up on the ground instead of being safely disposed of are likely to flow, untreated, into our waters, including the Kaw and Missouri Rivers. Some will flow on eastward to join with the Mississippi River, eventually dumping into the Gulf of Mexico.