Thursday, June 24, 2010

Litter picking is an All Season Sport - Misconceptions about cigarette butts. Cig butts top Vermont's litter list.

Cigarette butts impose daunting math problem. As six year old asks "Why do People Litter?"

Six-year-old Francine Able of South Burlington recalled when her dad challenged her to count the fireflies in the back yard one early summer night. At first, it was easy- for just one or two burning lights flew about. However, as others joined in the fray, hundreds if not thousands of the small insects infiltrated the Spartan sky. The following year when spring and Green Up day arrived, Mr. Able challenged Francine to count all the pieces of litter they would find and dispose. Francine was sure success would be hers this time. However, to Francine's surprise litter splattered the area they had cleaned up last Green Up day, imposing another daunting math problem.

Stalling, Francine asked her dad, “why do people litter?” to which he responded:

• Lack of knowledge of the environmental effects of littering.

• Litter has already accumulated. The more litter present the more people are inclined to litter.

• Lack of social pressure to do the right thing.

• Number, placement and appearance of disposal containers at or near the site are inadequate.

• People who litter often feel no sense of pride in the areas they are littering.

• They do not view the item as litter. That is often the case with cigarette butts.

Given the enormity of the pending count, Francine decided to try to improve her odds of success. “Cigarettes butts are small and inconsequential so I don't need to count them,” she suggested.

                                                                                                                         Photo by Rosanne Greco

To which Mr. Able responded, “Cigarettes may be small but they are more harmful to our environment than first meets the eye. Think of the volumes of cigarettes tossed on our streets many of which end up in our streams, rivers, and lakes. In addition, remember:

• Cigarette butts are not biodegradable (Most filters are made of plastic-like cellulose acetate.)

• The chemicals that leach out of the filters may harm aquatic life at the bottom of the food chain.

• Fish and other marine creatures as well as birds may ingest cigarettes mistaking them for food.”

As you can see here and especially at the outside entrances to public buildings, many people do not believe they are, littering when they throw their cigarette butts on the ground. We need to get the message out that cigarette butts are litter, in order to change the behavior that contaminates our urban landscape, harms wildlife, pollutes our waters, and creates a gargantuan mathematical challenge for you Francine.

Looking on the bright side Francine calculated that the day's Green Up haul of litter larger than a cigarette were down from last year. “Dad, now we need to get as strong a message out to folks about the harmful impacts of cigarette litter. If we do that do you think cigarette littering behavior will change and next year I won't need a calculator when we come back here next Green UP day?”

Mr. Able replied, “Francine, you can count on that!”

References: Bulleted litter facts from Prince Edward Islands web site:

*Fictional story and characters. No intention to represent any real individual.
June 2009

March 2012 update
You Tube-"Butt Really" song by Michael Franti:

Toxicity of Cigarette butts:

More Cig. Butts Facts:

Top 10 trash items in our oceans: