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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Cigarette Dirty Butts

After three summers of working for Youth Conservation Corps in the mid-'70's and three years of managing a car wash in the new Millennium, I have one pet peeve about trash. Why can't people properly dispose of their own cigarette butts and filters? I have cleaned up so many discarded cigarettes that I feel as if I could fill up a good-sized dump by myself. I don't expect anyone to pick up my trash from public places, so why do so many people want to dump their trash where others must contend with it? Statistics report that "1 of 3 cigarette butts around the globe end up as litter while cigarette butt litter accounts for 50% of all litter in most Western countries" (ecolad.com). Cigarette butts are the most abundant type of litter found in our roadways and one of the deadliest forms of waste littered. Tossed out of car windows and from sidewalks, cigarette butts cause millions in economic damages($6 billion in societal costs and direct property damage a year), not to mention loss of life, from fires every year. Also, cigarette butts are tiny packets of toxins that, once littered, enter our marine ecosystems and wreak havoc with wildlife and water quality. It is believed (Californians Against Waste Website) that each cigarette butt can contain up to 60 known human carcinogens including arsenic, formaldehyde, chromium and lead. Indeed, there are 1,400 potential chemical additives. Look at some astounding figures compiled by Clean Virginia Waterways. These figures illustrate the need for reform. No one knows exactly the number of cigarette butts littered every year. These numbers reflect the number of cigarettes consumed. The 360 billion cigarettes smoked in the United States in 2007 translates to a total of 135,000,000 pounds of discarded butts in one year in the United States alone. The filters from 5.6 trillion cigarettes (approximate world production) would weigh more than 2.1 billion pounds. This figure does not include the weight of the tobacco still attached to the filter, or the packaging, matches, disposable lighters, and other "collateral" waste that is generated by smoking. No one knows the cost of picking up cigarette butts, but here are a few examples to consider: "School officials say landscapers who should be planting flowers and pruning shrubs are spending time instead picking up butts on the 15,000-acre campus: Some 13 landscapers spend 10 hours a week picking up discarded cigarettes at an estimated cost of $150,000." -- Philadelphia Daily News, March 27, 2000 on Penn State Cigarette Litter Costs

Marshall University in Huntington: "Maintenance spends a lot of time picking it up and it seems like we can't keep up," Dr. K. Edward Grose, vice president of operations, said. Andrew Sheetz, supervisor of roads and grounds, said a conservative estimate would be that at least $30,000 is spent by his department alone picking up cigarettes and other litter. He has one employee who does nothing but pick up litter and empty trash from the nearly 100 trash cans around campus, Sheetz said. The worker's salary alone, not including overtime, benefits or insurance, comes to about $27,000, Sheetz said."

Virginia's Department of Transportation (VDOT) spends more than $6 million every year in picking up litter along Virginia's roads.

The country would be a much cleaner and safer place if all smokers would properly take care of their own litter. Scientists estimate that it takes up to 12 years for a cigarette butt to break down. "People think they are biodegradable," said Kathryn Novak, coordinator for the Florida branch of the Ocean Conservancy. They're not, so think before flicking that cigarette butt out the car window." Maybe we can change opinions about cigarette butt litter one person at a time. Consider the reality of this pledge below. I pledge allegiance, as I trash the United States of America, and to the cigarette butt carpet under which it's hidden, one more, what can it hurt, another one non-biodegradable acetate filter for all. John R. Pollito, 2002
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