Don’t be a Butthead
Spring is here. And with the melted snow, we can now see what is left behind. Cigarette butts! The next time you are stopped at an intersection or waiting at the entrance of a public building, look down and you will most likely see littered cigarette butts. Data from the International Coastal Cleanup in New Hampshire indicated that cigarette butts and filters were the #1 debris item collected. Volunteers in 2005 collected an estimated 52,000 butts. And the numbers have been going up every year since 1995.
All smokers are not to blame; many smokers don’t litter. Many that do toss their butts don’t realize that they are contributing to the largest litter problem in the country. Some people assume the cigarette butts will break down in the environment, someone will sweep them up off the street or sidewalk, or that they are so small they won’t make a difference.
Most importantly, cigarette filters are not biodegradable. Nearly all cigarette filters are made of cellulose acetate, a form of plastic, and they can take many years to degrade. When it rains, the water from the rain washes any debris, including cigarette butts on roads and sidewalks, into nearby waterways or to storm drains that flow right to our lakes, rivers and oceans.
Cigarette butts are not just unsightly litter, they are also a hazard to wildlife, a health hazard to people, pollutants of our waters and soils and a fire hazard.
Cigarette butts pose a health hazard to children and animals that eat them. According to the National Capital Poison Center, ingestion of more than three cigarette butts can cause serious illness in a toddler. Cigarette butts also contain tar, nicotine and toxic gases that contaminate our water. Butts have been found in the stomachs of fish, birds, whales and other marine creatures that mistake them for food. Littered cigarettes also cause numerous fires each year, some of them causing fatalities.
Whether or not you smoke, there are steps you can take to help stop using our environment as an ashtray.
- If you smoke, please don’t litter. Carry around a piece of foil or empty tin container to put your cigarette butt in when you are away from an ashtray.
- Don’t flush cigarette butts down the toilet. They do not biodegrade and may clog your septic system.
- Participate in or organize a local litter cleanup and make sure that picking up cigarette butts is part of that effort. Raising awareness of the issue helps.
- If you own or work at a public business, consider placing a cigarette butt receptacle in front of your entrance. While making it more convenient for smokers to do the right thing, this will also decrease your daily cleanup efforts.
- If you know smokers, try to educate them on the amount of cigarette butts that are around and how long it takes butts to biodegrade.
- Consider requesting local officials to take a more active role in the issue. In addition to state law, most New Hampshire communities have an ordinance prohibiting litter, including cigarettes. Unfortunately, these ordinances are not enforced as much as they could be.
If you think that one more cigarette butt won’t make a difference think of 52,000 of them picked up from New Hampshire sidewalks, roads and beaches. For more information on organized cleanups, contact the NH Department of Environmental Services at (603) 271-7889.