266,000 and More to Come!


Last Saturday, twelve of our local members of the PNW GreenFriends Litter Project met at Cal Anderson Park on Capitol Hill in Seattle.  Our goal, to pick up as many cigarette butts as we could in an hour and a half.  The Litter Project was formed in 2011.  Most of our members come from the Pacific Northwest part of the United States, but we also have members from other parts of the U.S. and around the world.

When I started picking up litter, I thought that cigarette filters were harmless cotton and often passed them by in favor of the bigger pieces of litter.  Soon I learned they were anything but harmless.  They are made from cellulose acetate tow and they can take decades to degrade. Investigators in a San Diego State University study once discovered that if you put fathead minnows and top smelt in a liter of water that also contains a single cigarette butt, half of the fish will die.

All too many cigarette butts end up in our landfills, waterways, earth and in the stomachs of birds, fish and children.  The butts are the biggest form of litter, with an estimate of 5.6 trillion being flicked in the world each year.  I wonder how many of the horrendous fires we’ve been experiencing in the U.S. this year were started by a motorist throwing a butt out of their automobile window.

Ocean Conservancy coordinates yearly clean ups along the worlds coastlines.  The most recent statistics I could find were from their 2013 cleanup.  In 2013, 648,015 volunteers from 92 countries participated in the clean up.  They gathered 12,329,332 pounds of trash over 12,914 miles of coast lines.  Here are the top 10 items their volunteers removed from the beaches:

  1. Cigarette butts 2,043,470
  2. Food wrappers 1,685,422
  3. Plastic beverage bottles 940,170
  4. Bottle caps 847,972
  5. Straws 555,007
  6. Grocery bags 441,493
  7. Glass beverage bottles 394,796
  8. Other plastic bags 389,088
  9. Paper bags 368,746
  10. Beverage cans 339,170

Cigarette butts have been their #1 item for some time.

When the PNW Litter Project began, the Seattle area group picked up litter of all kinds.  While most members still do that, over time our local group began to focus more on the cigarette butts. While every butt we remove makes a difference there are always more to take their place.

On Saturday though, there seemed to be considerably less butts in the park than when we cleaned that park last year.  Maybe the efforts of the King County Tobacco Prevention program and groups like ours are making a difference in the bigger picture as well.

There were still plenty of butts however!  The dog that was accompanying one of our workers must have thought the picture at the top of this post didn’t adequately show the number we picked up because she knocked the bag over.  So here is a better view.


And this bag of butts was collected with only with twelve people working for an hour and a half.

Since we started focusing on cigarette butts in 2012 we have picked up more than

266,000 butts!

At least 260,000 of them were sent to TerraCycle, an organization that recycles them into plastic pallets.

Here are pictures taken at other work parties:

Everyone from everywhere is welcome to join this project.  If you would like more information  or to join, click here.  Together we can make a difference!

11 thoughts on “266,000 and More to Come!

  1. It is odd you know Karuna, because spotting a discarded cigarette butt in a public place seems a rare event these days in England. I wonder, do Americans smoke much more than we English perhaps? [Rhetorical] In fact, just to see someone smoking in public here seems an oddity these days.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is different in different parts of the city but it is certainly not uncommon to someone driving while smoking, usually with their hand out the window.

      In some parks and areas of the city you find very few butts on the ground. In others they are everywhere.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. It is on the wane here but there is still plenty. Our government has passed a laws limiting smoking in many public places but I would bet an outright ban would be next to impossible, the tobacco lobby is so strong.

      I’ve heard of places in this country and others that have huge fines for littering though.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I beg to differ, it is not next to impossible. We had several tobacco companies in India that were doing good business, of which only one is now surviving, called ITC (Indian Tobacco Company, a spin off of erstwhile Imperial Tobacco Company of colonial Britain). How are they still keeping their neck above water? Well, they successfully managed to diversify into toiletries, cosmetics and the hospitality industry, cigarettes stand reduced to just a small part of their product portfolio, basically due to declining sales and greater governmental restrictions. Indians were until recently notorious for the dirty habit of snuffing and chewing tobacco. There are strict statutory controls on these products and popular taste is weaning away from these toxic items. Likewise, the Americans and the government must join hands to tackle the might of Marlboro and others and muscle them down. Tobacco farming is still on India, as it has its uses as an effective ingredient in organic pesticides. I was a smoker for over twelve years, it is now over thirty years since I kicked the habit. Presently I cannot stand the sight of anyone puffing away and adding to the already high emission level…best wishes.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Seems that I´m the culprit of global destruction since I smoked two packs a day at one time, and I´m quite sure that while on the beach or park I didn´t have an ashtray at hand. Nice hobby, I´m going to get myself a hobby to save the world. Maybe pick up cow feces, since according to the U.N itself, it pollutes more than car emitions.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. In my mind we are all culprits of global destruction. We can all make a difference in small ways even if as individuals we aren’t likely to solve the big problems.

      Ashtrays were pretty much eliminated here, so there is no easy way for people to dispose of their cigarettes. It would indeed take an ashtray in hand and there aren’t many people that would be willing to do that. In terms of our project, there are numerous ex smokers in our ranks!

      Liked by 1 person

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