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

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


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

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10:45AM PDT on Jul 7, 2013

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.

10:52AM PDT on May 23, 2013

thnx for this

1:58AM PDT on May 20, 2013

People need to be fined for littering of any kind.

1:56AM PDT on May 20, 2013

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 ??

4:58PM PDT on May 16, 2013

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!

11:48AM PDT on May 16, 2013

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

5:57PM PDT on May 15, 2013


3:36PM PDT on May 14, 2013

All trash, cigarette butts included, should be disposed of in proper containers. Comments on this article sound like an extremely passionate anti-smoking rally. Bet some of this energy could be better used doing something for a needy cause (child/animal abuse, homeless people, orphans, etc) instead of spewing nasty remarks about low class smokers. BTW, I'm not a smoker.

3:48PM PDT on May 13, 2013

They should make a one cent recycle reward for every butt collected and turned in- it works great with bottles and would be a way for the homeless to make money.

12:29PM PDT on May 13, 2013

This really bugs me big time!!!! It is a mindless & disgusting thing to do! I really have an issue w/ litterbugs!. I have seen people just open up their car windows & throw out a lit ciggarette & one time it came right into my car!!! I have also seen people just throw out bags of garbage right out their car window as well! It is unbelievable the disregard that people have for the the earth & for their towns. I get so disgusted driving down the expressways & parkways seeing all this! & the service roads are just beyond horrendous! The financial resources it takes to clean alll this up could be put towards feeding the hungry etc. It is so prevelant that the litter can't even be cleaned up quick enough before the roadways are littered again! This is living unconscious w/ out a care for anyone but themselves & the reason this world is the way it is...not just for littering, but for all the ills in the world! The "me, me...its all about my needs" mentality is truly at the root of all the evils of the world. People need to realize that "EVERYTHING AFFECTS, EVERYTHING" I will not keep my mouth shut either if someone does this in my presence & have literally had arguments w/ people doing this. I don't want to be friends w/ anyone who would be so blind as to not think that that is a wrong thing to do. Life is to short to spend it w/ ignorant asses!

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