Kicking butt once and for all!

Imagine this: 100 people are walking on your street. They’re carrying coffee cups, burger wrappers and household waste. Now picture 65 of those 100 individuals tossing their garbage on the ground and continuing on their way.

Imagine this happening on every street in the world, in every park and on every sidewalk. Daily.

Now let’s imagine that the trash being disposed of contains a deadly mix of hazardous and toxic chemicals, and is seeping into our ground and waterways. It is being ingested by wildlife, our pets, and picked up, sucked on and occasionally swallowed by our unsuspecting children?

Now stop imagining. This is our reality.

The flicking, tossing and throwing of cigarette butts onto the ground is not a small problem. It is massive.

According to a San Diego State University study, a single cigarette butt with just a tiny amount of tobacco left in it is enough to turn one litre of water toxic, and kill 50 per cent of the species swimming in it.

According to a study, Litter in America, conducted in 2009 by KAB Research, “The overall littering rate for cigarette butts is 65%, and tobacco products comprise 38% of all U.S. roadway litter.”

Recently, I spent an hour one morning enjoying a coffee in a beautiful town. As I enjoyed a downtown patio and observed the streetscape around me, I was surprised by the number of cigarette disposal poles on the sidewalks. There were dozens of them, located every 15 or 20 feet apart.

Just that morning, I noticed two people flick cigarette butts onto the ground. Never saw a disposal unit used.

Making cigarette disposal locations more readily available is a part of the solution, but having people use them is a much bigger issue.

According to a 2011 research paper, Toxicity of cigarette butts, and their chemical comnponents, to marine and freshwater fish“An estimated 4.5 trillion cigarette butts are thrown away every year worldwide.”

Over 4000 chemicals may also be introduced to the environment via cigarette particulate matter (tar) and mainstream smoke. These include chemicals such as carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide, nitrogen oxides, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, ammonia, acetaldehyde, formaldehyde, benzene, phenol, argon, pyridines and acetone, over 50 of which are known to be carcinogenic to humans.

Windsor Star photo.

Windsor Star photo.

Yes, cigarette butts are the most common form of litter in the world, and to our downtowns, main streets and business areas, they create an absolute mess.

In areas where it has become taboo to litter, butts gather in every corner, around every tree and bike post. They sit there, toxic and ugly, waiting to be pushed down the sewer to have their way with our water supply.

According to

“The biggest myth is that cigarette filters are biodegradable. In fact, cigarette butts are not biodegradable in the sense that most people think of the word. The acetate (plastic) filters can take many years to decompose. Smokers may not realize that their actions have such a lasting, negative impact on the environment.”

What do we need to do to win this battle? Most who have thought about the problem say education is needed. I believe they are correct, but the message to this point has been weak and has made very little impact. Anti smoking advocates might argue that if we decrease the number of smokers, we’ll solve two problems. I’d argue differently.

The truth is that virtually 100% of smokers already know that smoking is bad for them. Yet they still do it. I don’t believe they know how bad the littering problem is, and how harmful it really is. In Canada, 75 per cent of cigarette packaging must be covered with graphic anti-smoking messages:

What percentage of the package must contain anti-littering information?

According to, the question is suspicious, and the conclusion is disturbing:

It is very common for highly littered items such as soda cans, snack wrappers, and fast food containers to have a simple “Please Don’t Litter” message. You won’t find such a message on cigarette packs. Although our contacts in the industry are at a loss as to why they can’t take this simple step, our best guess is that they would prefer to leave their customers blissfully ignorant. Maybe they think that people will smoke fewer cigarettes if they have to be responsible for disposing of them.

Keep Britain Tidy campaignYes, there are some clever campaigns out there, including this one from Keep Britain Tidy. This very public presentation, along with an amusing video, make a statement that the issue matters. But, truthfully, the battle is one that very few are fighting.

How is it even possible, in 2014, that 65 of every 100 cigarettes land on our roads and sidewalks? This is an issue that has been put on the backburner for far too long.

Politicians at all levels should look at high profile education campaigns, serious littering fines, and a major publicity effort. What if a percentage of cigarette packages had 75 per cent of the label with a message about the effects of flicking.

Share this story and any other coverage that brings this issue to light.

The butt must stop here!

About Darryl Kaplan

Darryl Kaplan is a public speaker, author and advocate who believes that the BIG IDEA will save Main Street and create a new revolution in local living. An entrepreneur with a passion for small business and retail, Kaplan founded the Baby Point Gates Business Improvement Area in Toronto, and currently sits as its Chair. He was elected to the Executive Committee of the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas - an organization that represents 81 BIAs and 35,000 small businesses. A multiple award winner in communications, magazine writing and editing, Kaplan has had hundreds of columns and editorials published nationally.

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