By this time, we should all be aware just how harmful cigarette butts are to the environment. If you are a smoker, then you should be aware of the statistics:
766,571 metric tons of cigarette butts – the number one littered item in the world – make their way into the environment each year.
This staggering statistic prompted leaders from Tobacco-Free Roswell Park, Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper, and the Buffalo Sewer Authority, to come together at Broderick Park (1170 Niagara Street), to discuss the mounting problem, and to share possible solutions. The organizations were joined by community advocates and environmentalists who are also concerned about the scourge of cigarette butts.
To show how the problem of discarded cigarette butts is harming the local WNY community, data from the Great Lakes Watershed Cleanup (conducted by Ocean Conservancy) was shared. During the 2019 cleanup, 339,716 cigarette butts (35.3% of all items recovered) were collected, making them by far the most littered trash. Add to that, 44,822 cigar tips plus 1,868 other tobacco products (including vape pens).
Littered cigarette butts on roadways and in parks have become so common that most people have become blind to them and don’t realize where they end up and what a threat they can become to public health.
What’s especially sad (and infuriating) is that the combination of all of this discarded waste is contributing to the ongoing harm of marine life, wildlife, plant life, and the lives of Buffalonians.
“What most people don’t realize is that cigarette filters are made of a plastic called cellulose acetate,” said Andrew Hyland, PhD, chair of the department of Health Behavior at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. “When discarded, they leach nicotine and heavy metals into the environment before turning into microplastic pollution.”
So what’s the solution?
Well, education is first and foremost. That’s why this collective group has adopted the name “Kick Butts Collaborative (KBC).” The name was derived from KBC members from the village of Hamburg (the “Butt Kickers”), who have been making attempts to keep the streets of Hamburg as butt-free as possible. The thought is, if they can curb the amount of butts that end up on the ground, then there will be fewer butts that end up at water treatment facilities (or in the Niagara River).
What they discovered in Hamburg was, if smokers were provided with more places to discard their butts (outside of bars, for example), fewer butts ended up on the sidewalk. KBC member Dave Zalikowski put out a public ashtray and recovered 300 butts in one month’s time.
Can you imagine what adding more ashtrays would do?
The Hamburg Butt Kickers, who were recently honored with a 2021 Erie County Environmental Excellence Award.
One would think that it would be up to the bar owners to put out ashtrays if they know that their customers are smoking out on the sidewalk. Hopefully this call to action serves as a reminder that they can be part of the solution, instead of part of the problem.
Incredibly, many people who smoke don’t think twice about tossing a cigarette butt out of their car windows. For some reason, they either don’t care, or don’t think that this form of litter is doing any harm. Wrong!
“If people are throwing cigarette butts out their car windows, eventually the rain flushes them into the sewers and they end up in our facilities,” said Alex Emmerson, supervisor at the Buffalo Sewer Authority.
The Buffalo Medical Campus is a smoke-free campus, but that doesn’t stop people from smoking and discarding their butts (see the video above). Therefore, they ended up putting out butt receptacles to try to curb the excessive butt litter that they were finding throughout the campus.
Obviously, getting more butts off the sidewalks starts with education people about the harms of smoking. The fewer people smoking, the fewer butts on the ground. But there will always be people who smoke, which means that it’s of utmost importance to encourage them to be more sympathetic to the environment… and to the community where they live.
Ultimately, in a more perfect world, it would be the responsibility of the cigarette manufacturers to make a biodegradable butt, but as we all know, they are in it for the profits, not the planet. In the meantime, it’s up to all of us to spread this important message that tossing out a cigarette butt is a form of littering and pollution.
If you know someone who smokes, please pass this message along.