Friday, November 9, 2012

Cigarette butts-do they count as litter?

     Six-year-old Francine Able of South Burlington recalled a moon-less summer night when her dad challenged her to count the fireflies in the back yard. At first, it was easy, as just one or two burning lights flew about. But as other fireflies joined in the fray the Spartan sky was soon infiltrated with hundreds if not thousands of the small insects.
      The following year when spring and Green Up day arrived Mr. Able challenged Francine to count all the pieces of litter they would find that day as well as on their weekly walk throughout the summer and fall. Francine was sure success would be hers this time. But to Francine's surprise the area they had cleaned up last Green Up day was again strewn with litter 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 ash receptacles at or near the site.

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

·     They don’t view the item as litter. That is often the case with cigarette butts. (The most littered item throughout the country).

Given the enormity of the pending count Francine decided to try to greatly 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.)

·       Aquatic life at the bottom of the food chain may be harmed by the chemicals that leach out of the filters.

·       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 high traffic areas and public buildings; many people don't 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 this day's haul of litter larger than a cigarette were down from the previous litter picking walk collection. “Dad, we need to get a message out to folks about the harmful impacts of cigarette butt litter to our environment and community. If we do that do you think cigarette littering behavior will change and thereafter I won't need a calculator to count the litter we pick up on our walks together?"

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

Story revised from June 2009 publication. *Fictional story and characters. No intention to represent any real individual. References: Bulleted litter facts from Prince Edward Islands web site:
Recycle Cigarette butts by mail.

Cigarette litter prevention guide. (KAB)

Read more about the global cigarette butt litter problem:

What is the single biggest litter problem on the planet? Bill Nye the science guy answers

Cigarette filter decay test show surprising results 

Over 50,000 cig butts picked up on one beach by one family... read more at
Nov 2012, CONGRATULATIONS Wrightsville beach, on going Smoke-Free! First smoke-free beach in N.C.

You Tube-"Butt Really" song by Michael Franti:

Toxicity of Cigarette butts:

More Cig. Butts Facts:

Top 10 trash items in our oceans:

Other personal stories and folktale postings:
      Ø  Letters from home: