August is winding down, and that means that there are only a few weeks left of summer to get to the beach. So we suggest you make the most of it and get your butt down there. But when you arrive at your favorite spot, looking for a place to lay your blanket, you may find a lot of other butts that don’t belong. Gross butts or, to be more specific, cigarette butts. Because despite the lower smoking rate among Americans today, cigarette butts are still the most littered item in the world, including at our favorite summer destinations. And it can be hard to enjoy soaking up those fading summer rays when you’re surrounded by tar-stained trash.
According to Truth Initiative® and the Ocean Conservancy, more than 1 million cigarette butts were removed from the waterfront in the U.S. in 2016— that means cigarette butts made up 24 percent of the waste collected. They were the most common single item. Why does that matter? Well, there are still some people who assume cigarettes are biodegradable. That’s not the case. They’re actually awful for the environment.
As people grow more environmentally conscious and think about the products they use and discard, there’s still a strange disconnect when it comes to cigarette waste. States are banning single-use plastic bags, but many people still have no idea how damaging cigarette butts are to the planet. Right now, only half of America’s best beaches are completely smoke-free, meaning that there’s a lot of work to be done before you can spread out your towel without seeing a butt.
That’s why truth®, who state that they are “one of the largest and most effective youth smoking prevention campaigns,” is calling attention to these butts, sharing the message that not all butts are awesome.
“Cigarette butts are the number one piece of litter found on beaches worldwide,” Dr. Chad Nelsen, CEO of Surfrider Foundation, a community that works to protect the ocean, waves, and beaches, told truth. “They are made of plastic, are toxic, never decompose and pollute the ocean.”
A recent World Health Organization study explains how horrible chemicals from cigarettes are getting into our waterways and how they trickle down, affecting our food, plants, and wildlife. Just one cigarette butt in a liter of water could be enough to kill a fish, according to a study from San Diego State University. When you know that millions of cigarette butts wash up on beaches all over the world, it’s clear that we’re dramatically endangering marine life.
Luckily, it’s not all bleak when it comes to butts on the beach. Young people are already taking steps forward and organizing cigarette butt cleanups in public spaces and on college campuses across the country.
“Students picked up more than 10 Ziploc bags full of cigarette butts for our environmental advocacy project,” said Pascal Bakari, a student at North Lake College and a Truth Initiative college leader who spoke with truth on the matter. “Our college values sustainability and keeping the campus clean is set as a high priority by the administration, which is why we’re always encouraged to think about our footprint on the environment and act on keeping it clean.”