Cigarette butt littering adversely affects environment

Warning: this content contains material that may not be suitable for those who have an addiction to cigarettes but those who care about the environment should keep reading. Accordingly, the author insists that no one attempt to read this information if he or she is not in for a serious reality check.

Disposing of cigarette butts is equivalent to throwing a piece of trash on the ground. Some cigarette smokers don’t think twice when they throw their cigarette butts on the ground and press their heel into the concrete.

San Francisco, although one of the greenest cities, has one of the highest proportion of smokers. Roughly 13 percent of residents are smokers, according to a report by the California Department of Public Health. In comparison, about 10 percent of the population of Los Angeles and 11 percent of San Diego are smokers.

Currently, San Francisco adds a 20 cent tax cut to each pack of cigarettes sold to cover the $11 million the city spends annually to remove cigarette litter.

If you haven’t noticed, there are a lot of people who smoke in designated smoking areas (DSAs) near campus. DSAs are littered with cigarette butts on the ground, in bushes, on curbs, in the cracks of the sidewalk and just about every other place a piece of litter could find its way into.

This needs to come to an end; Mother Nature is practically begging for it to stop.

According to the Cigarette Butt Pollution Project, San Diego State University public health researcher Richard Gersberg studied the effect of cigarette butts on marine life, and found that “chemicals from just one filtered cigarette butt had the ability to kill half the fish living in a 1-liter container of water.” The cigarette filters, made of cellulose-acetate, a toxic plastic, are not biodegradable.

There are approximately 600 additives that are found in cigarettes and when burned, they create more than 4,000 chemicals. At least 50 of these are poisonous, according to the American Lung Association. These chemicals include lighter fluid, methane, arsenic, caldarium, ammonia, menthol and more.

These toxic cigarette butts find their way into sewers, oceans and streams through runoff or sometimes they are thrown into the ocean. Either way, the butts that aren’t properly disposed of find their way into one of our most precious resources: water.

The study used three types of cigarette butts: smoked filtered cigarettes without tobacco, smoked filtered cigarettes with tobacco and clean unsmoked filtered cigarettes. All cases showed that half of the fish were killed with a low concentration of cigarette butts.

According to the SF State website, ashtrays were supposed to be installed as part of the smoke-free campus policy in 2004, in order to ensure fire safety and prevent litter outside of campus-owned and leased buildings. The problem is that putting ashtrays where you want people to smoke does not necessarily mean that they’ll smoke there. A better approach would be to find popular smoke spots and install ashtrays where the smokers already congregate.

“There is anecdotal evidence that adding ashtrays, along with a public education program about the environmental harm caused by ground littering of butts, does result in some reduction of the ground littering,” Richard L. Barnes, of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California, San Francisco, said.

Manufacturers need to create new products that are healthy for the environment. One company is doing just that. According to their website, Reynolds American Inc., the nation’s second largest cigarette maker, is developing a biodegradable cigarette. The CBPP thinks that something is needed to move the responsibility for the waste from taxpayers to tobacco product manufacturers.

It may be time to set a recycle program in motion. In July 2012, TerraCycle provided free UPS shipping labels so people could mail in their collected butts. An unnamed American tobacco company handled the bill while the butts were recycled into plastic pallets for industrial use.

“This model incentivizes cleanup, collection, and recycling,” Barnes said. “The challenge is to bring it up to a scale that can handle the billions of butts disposed of improperly every year in the US and to adequately incentivize consumers to participate.”

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, global tobacco consumption has more than doubled in the past 30 years and cigarette production is at a record high. Go ahead and spark up that cigarette with your morning coffee or after that rough eight hour shift, just remember that your trash isn’t the environment’s treasure.