Rethink Butts: The Litter Most People Don’t Even Think About

NOTE: This is a guest post from the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics.

Littered cigarette butts are more than just an eye sore. According to environmental clean-up reports, cigarette butts are the No. 1 littered item on U.S. roadways and the No. 1 item found on beaches and waterways worldwide. A new survey conducted by Legacy, a public health non-profit based in Washington, D.C., shows that while more than 88 percent of Americans surveyed think that cigarette butts are an environmental concern, more than 44 percent of those polled who had ever smoked admit to having dropped a cigarette on the ground and nearly 32 percent have dropped a cigarette out of a car window.

Toxic tobacco trash includes a plastic filter which biodegrades only under extreme conditions, putting wildlife in danger and wreaking costly havoc on U.S. waterways, parks, beaches and roadways. Additionally, cigarette butts contain carcinogens that can leach into soil, and chemicals that are poisonous to wildlife, threatening to contaminate water sources.

Last month, to celebrate Earth Day, Legacy partnered with the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics (Leave No Trace) to raise awareness and mobilize action surrounding this toxic problem with a new set of television and radio Public Service Announcements (PSAs) available in English and Spanish, urging the public to ‘Rethink Butts’ and take a new perspective on this environmental issue.

Americans surveyed reported seeing this form of toxic litter on sidewalks (80.1 percent), in parks (32.1 percent), on playgrounds (16.6 percent) and on beaches (15.7 percent). While more than 93 percent of those surveyed agree that dropping a cigarette butt on the ground is a form of littering, it is alarming that so many smokers still litter them.

“Social norms surrounding litter have shifted dramatically over the last several decades,” said Dr. Cheryl Healton, PhD, President and CEO of Legacy. ”But despite the fact that so many Americans are hyper-concerned about the environment and are eager to recycle household items and pick up litter, there remains a total disconnect when it comes to flicking cigarette butts onto our streets and into our waterways. Through our new partnership with Leave No Trace, we hope to not only begin to change the behavior of littering cigarette butts, but also highlight the fact that billions of cigarettes butts annually amount to an enormous environmental and public health threat that our communities are left to pay for.”

“Cigarette butts have a serious impact in the outdoors where we and our children recreate and explore,” said Dana Watts, Executive Director of the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. “Through this important partnership with Legacy, we hope to provide tangible and relevant public education about the issue, fostering healthier people, lands and waterways.”

In an increasingly health and environmentally conscious world, cigarette butts remain one of the only socially acceptable forms of littering left. This new set of bilingual PSAs is available online for download and distribution. Even though Earth Day has passed, you can still commit to promoting environmental action this year, by stopping toxic litter and starting the discussion about this global problem. Download the PSAs and read more at RethinkButts.org.

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The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics teaches people of all ages how to enjoy the outdoors responsibly, and is the most widely accepted outdoor ethics program used on public lands. Through targeted education, research and outreach, the Center ensures the long-term health of our natural world. In its simplest form, Leave No Trace is about making good decisions to protect the world around you – the world we all enjoy. Learn more at lnt.org

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120 comments

Darren Woolsey
Darren Woolsey1 years ago

Like many of you, I don't have much of a problem with actual cigarette smoking (if you want to waste money on something which is of zero value to you, then that's your choice), but responsibility is the key issue, and throwing the used cigarette butt out of your car, or throwing it away in the street, etc., is my pet hate.

Howie K.
Howie K.1 years ago

Oct. 9 2014
The cigarette butt trash issue, (although not the most important thing to worry about on the planet earth), needs to raised up to a higher level of awareness, as they have been passed on with a blind eye, and through default, permitted to contaminate the environment. They (cig.butts) should be treated in the same way as whatever other trash is, as they are indeed TRASH, and, not given a "free ticket."
Personally I HATE them, and have the same passionate stance against the cigarette butt trash as many other people have commented.
One other thing.....Do the smokers who dispose of their trash wherever, be it on the streets, out the windows, etc., also, in their own homes, throw them on the floor, extinguish them with their feet, and leave them there? Most likely, I would think that, that is not the case. So, can we ask them to please have the same courtesy when they are away from their own space, and in the public domain. Thank You.

Howie K.
Howie K.1 years ago

Oct. 9 2014
The cigarette butt trash issue, (although not the most important thing to worry about on the planet earth), needs to raised up to a higher level of awareness, as they have been passed on with a blind eye, and through default, permitted to contaminate the environment. They (cig.butts) should be treated in the same way as whatever other trash is, as they are indeed TRASH, and, not given a "free ticket."
Personally I HATE them, and have the same passionate stance against the cigarette butt trash as many other people have commented.
One other thing.....Do the smokers who dispose of their trash wherever, be it on the streets, out the windows, etc., also, in their own homes, throw them on the floor, extinguish them with their feet, and leave them there? Most likely, I would think that, that is not the case. So, can we ask them to please have the same courtesy when they are away from their own space, and in the public domain. Thank You.

Enoch C Gould
Enoch C. Gould1 years ago

These cigarette butts are a really significant environmental problem--they are non-biodegradable, they contain numberous toxic substances which are capable of real damage to the health of those that use them, those that are secondarily exposed to them and indeed the whole nearby environment.
It is time that an answer was really found to these butts. These are merely thrown along roads by many people, and then end up in the nearby lakes, rivers, ponds, water-flow along the road and etc.
Thanks for reading, everyone!
God bless! Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior!

Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson3 years ago

fine them to death. Littering is my NUMBER ONE pet peeve. It sickens me. And smoking in general is disgusting, wish we could stop it somehow. The smell on clothes and hair, the terrible cost to your health and the health of every person you force to deal with the smoke and the smell, the detrimental effects on the teeth and breath, the litter, the effect on the skin, the fact that it keeps people from being able to sit at a desk and do their jobs without multiple ridiculous breaks. Just bad all around. Nasty. And yes, the litter is gross and ugly and unnecessary. So many of them don't even CARE?!? I mean i know many do, and smoking in no way reflects how kind a person is, but it is a selfish choice. Especially if you have indoor pets, family or children living with you.

Jane Warren
Jane Warren3 years ago

thnx for this

Nimue Pendragon

People need to be fined for littering of any kind.

Diana Hodson
Diana Hodson3 years ago

interesting, Here in UK we now have £70 fine for leaving butts around --(mainly enforced in public places, such as hospital grounds, bus shelters etc.) Also, smoking is now against the law in cafes/bars/ everywhere really. What is the situationn in USA ??

Amanda M.
Amanda M.3 years ago

This is yet another reason why I am VERY glad that my husband finally quit smoking this year! Unfortunately, I have a shitload of butts to clean out of the yard from his smoking years...ugh.

And I HATE that habit that smokers have of chucking their butts everywhere, especially since I had a burning butt land in my lap once while I was driving with the window down! Try getting THAT out of your lap while doing 65 and not wrecking the car. Man, I was cussing like crazy at the smoker in the other car who did that! And as a volunteer firefighter, don't even get me started on the brush fires that have been caused by smokers throwing their butts out of car windows or alongside paths or in the mulch in garden beds at malls, restaurants, etc.

If you want to wreck your lungs and your health, fine. But quit treating the rest of the world like your personal ashtray! We nonsmokers are NOT your goddamned maids!

Grace Adams
Grace Adams3 years ago

Litter in general is a bad scene and depresses property values.