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.
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