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:
- Cigarette butts 2,043,470
- Food wrappers 1,685,422
- Plastic beverage bottles 940,170
- Bottle caps 847,972
- Straws 555,007
- Grocery bags 441,493
- Glass beverage bottles 394,796
- Other plastic bags 389,088
- Paper bags 368,746
- 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
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!