By David Malakoff
With smokers flicking an estimated 4.5 trillion cigarette butts into the ecosphere each year, it’s time take a tougher stand against the toxin-laden litter, researchers say. The paper tubes are essentially mini Superfund sites laced with pesticides, heavy metals, and formaldehyde, explain Thomas E. Novotny and Elli Slaughter of California’s San Diego State University in Current Environmental Health Reports. Especially problematic are the plastic filters found on many cigarettes (which manufacturers have long suggested—falsely—make tobacco safer). The filters accumulate toxins and can leach chemicals for a decade. As a result, tobacco waste carries a high potential for contamination, as millions of tons of butts end up on sidewalks, roadsides, and beaches. Indeed, cigarette litter is the single largest category of trash collected during coastal cleanups, accounting for 19 percent to 38 percent of the global total. And butts soaked in water for just an hour or so, studies show, release chemicals that wreak havoc with insect larvae and fish.
Despite such worrying results, regulators don’t see a smoking gun. Butts are “unlikely to be thought of as a toxic waste,” the pair writes, so reducing the threat will require “novel environmental interventions and new partnerships between tobacco control and environmental groups.” Gentler approaches could include using ads to educate smokers about the toxicity threat and to persuade them to drop their butts into trash cans. But the researchers suggest more radical regulation should be on the table, too. Governments could ban filtered cigarettes, for instance, or require tobacco companies to take back their butts and pay for the cost of cleanups. Environmental groups could even sue for ecological damages.
Novotny, T.E. and E. Slaughter. 2014. Current Environmental Health Reports doi:10.1007/s40572-014-0016-x.
CHARLOTTE AMALIE, U.S. Virgin Islands — The U.S. Virgin Islands has banned smoking at all beaches inside its national park system.
The smoking ban covers cigars and pipes as well as cigarettes and is enforced from within 50 feet (15 meters) of the shoreline.
National Park Acting Superintendent Mike Anderson said Wednesday that the ban applies to all 12 of the territory’s protected beaches, which are on the island of St. John. Rangers are not yet issuing citations but rather educating the public.
The ban was approved to eliminate secondhand smoke and reduce the number of cigarette butts tossed on beaches.
International Coastal Cleanup Day campaigns in Puerto Rico and countries around the world have shown that cigarette butts account for about 20 percent of trash collected, more than any other item. Plastic bags and bottles are second.
In Puerto Rico, a bill to ban smoking on all public beaches was filed in the local legislature last year but wasn’t approved.
Puerto Rico already has the toughest anti-smoking laws in the U.S. and one of the strictest in the world. Law 40, enacted in 2007, prohibits smoking in restaurants, bars, liquor stores, casinos, shopping centers and outdoor cafés, among other places. People are permitted to smoke in their homes, and on the street. Smoking in a vehicle is off limits if a child under the age of 13 is present.
CARIBBEAN BUSINESS staff contributed to this report.
By Rachel Mehlhaff / Staff Writer
Published: 03 March 2012 11:15 PM
Students in the University of North Texas Pre-Dental Society passed an unusual Saturday, by many people’s standards: sweeping up cigarette butts at the corner of Fry and Hickory streets.
The students were volunteering for the Great American Cleanup, a nationwide effort to pick up trash around cities, sponsored locally by Keep Denton Beautiful. They were assigned the task of cleaning up cigarette butts littered around the Fry-Hickory intersection, where there are few ashtray receptacles.
Keep Denton Beautiful plans to put ashtrays in the area, but is gathering information right now to gauge how effective the receptacles will be once in place, said Aimee Bissett, program manager for the organization.
In 2007, the organization decided to collect and count the cigarette butts that accumulated in the area over five weeks. Volunteers found nearly 5,000, and Keep Denton Beautiful decided to expand its efforts in reducing the cigarette litter.
“It’s the most littered item in America,” Bissett said. “It’s not really perceived as litter the way other things are.”
People who normally wouldn’t throw trash such as fast-food wrappers on the ground don’t think twice about throwing their cigarette butts there, she said.
To combat the litter, Keep Denton Beautiful volunteers have been handing out pocket ashtrays on Fry Street and at events around Denton. The pocket ashtrays are like little coin purses, Bissett said, which can be slid open and sealed back up.
“People love them,” she said.
Last year, Keep Denton Beautiful was given a $10,000 grant to put ashtrays, solar-powered trash compactors, and recycling bins around Fry and Hickory streets.
The group has acquired 14 solar-powered trash compactors, which will be placed along Hickory Street from Fry Street to the A-train station, Bissett said. Before that can happen, she said, Keep Denton Beautiful and the city have to work out the logistics, such as how to pay for the trash cans to be emptied.
On Saturday, the 14 UNT Pre-Dental Society members separated cigarette butts from the other trash, so they could be counted later by Keep Denton Beautiful volunteers. The organization plans to put the new ashtrays in during UNT’s spring break later this month.
Stephanie Healy, president of the Pre-Dental Society, wasn’t surprised by the number of cigarette butts, because the closest ashtray is on the UNT campus. And even with the receptacles in place, students throw their cigarettes on the ground, she said. What did surprise her was the lack of recycling bins in the area.
“There’s a lot more trash bins than recycling,” Healy said.
The UNT students were one of many groups and individuals cleaning up Denton’s streets. An estimated 1,500 volunteers collected more than 750 bags of trash, although the exact amount won’t be known until later this week, Bissett said.
Zach Richardson, a UNT graduate student, was also picking up trash along Hickory Street. He lives in the area and wanted to help clean it up.
“This is something I’m interested in,” said Richardson, who is a member of the Sierra Club, an environmental organization.
He said while he was picking up trash he found plenty of beer bottles.
Once the cleanup was complete, volunteers gathered at Quakertown Park to enjoy music and food from local restaurants and vendors, including Fuzzy’s Taco Shop and Zombie’s Food Truck.