Commentary: Rethinking Toxic Trash on Earth Day
In a world that has become hyper-environmentally conscious, these pieces of toxic trash are the last socially acceptable form of litter. There are billions of them right where we live, work and play. In a recent poll, 88 percent of Americans surveyed recognize them as an environmental concern. They’re also pervasive; made mostly of plastic, they only fully biodegrade under the most extreme circumstances and they leach into the soil and contaminate waterways. Cigarette butts are more than just an eye sore, they are the number one litter item in the United States as well as on beaches and waterways worldwide. And after participating in an annual Earth Day Clean-Up in a Washington D.C. park last week, I can also attest to just how nasty they are. Passers-by stopped to thank us for cleaning them up, just as people passed us while on their smoking breaks, flicking them to the ground without a second thought.
This got us scratching our heads, wondering if this isn’t a pretty simple thing we can’t all begin to do something serious about. Cigarette butts are ubiquitous trash – 80 percent of Americans polled just last month report seeing them littered on sidewalks and elsewhere. Once littered, those plastic and paper filters that have captured a lot of toxins and additives from a smoked cigarette leach into our environment.
As reported in The New York Times, this Earth Day (April 22), Legacy has partnered with the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics (Leave No Trace) to get people re-thinking about this toxic trash. Starting this month, you’ll begin to see a new set of radio and television public service announcements (PSAs) in both English and Spanish, that challenge us to “Rethink Butts” and take a new perspective on this old environmental issue. Check them out on Rethinkbutts.org and help us spread the word by sharing them.
According to The Tax Burden on Tobacco report, Americans bought more than 287 billion cigarettes in 2011 – begging the question…where did they all go? In large part, the answer is our sidewalks, parks, beaches, waterways and landfills. We’re hoping you can help us connect the dots for people who care so much about the environment but don’t seem to understand that those little cigarette butts are adding up to a huge and costly problem.
Every littered butt is poisonous to our kids, our wildlife, and cumulatively, they threaten to contaminate water sources. Research shows that cigarette butts have potentially toxic effects on ecosystems. In over 25 years of international coastal cleanups, they’ve accounted for more than three times the number of any other item found. In one laboratory test, one cigarette butt soaked in a liter of water was lethal to half of the fish exposed.
It’s big problem so we need your help:
• Download and share the PSA content via your social media and the web during Earth Month in April and throughout the year. The PSAs will be available for download/share on the Legacy Facebook (Facebook/Legacy) page as well as online at RethinkButts.org. Follow Legacy on Twitter (@LegacyforHealth) for content related to this issue.
• Join a Twitter chat about the issue on April 22nd (Earth Day), from 2-3:30 ET. The #rethinkbutts hashtag will be used at this chat and throughout the month for news and information about the campaign.
• Download the toolkit with ideas from RethinkButts.org – post this URL, include information in an e-newsletter story, host a clean-up. There are endless ways to help stop toxic litter.
Help us start a debate about this toxic, expensive and nasty litter so we can change social norms and clean up our planet – one cigarette butt at a time.