Sunday, May 24, 2009

Toxic Butts

One big problem we have at our school and all over the city is cigarette butts being thrown everywhere. It's funny that people who wouldn't think of tossing an inert plastic wrapper on the ground think nothing of leaving a trail of butts. This isn't a smoking issue; it's a littering issue at the rate of over two billion new cigarette butts each day. Cigarette filters are the single most collected items on beach clean-ups.

On the ground, cigarette butts give off a leachate that contains a variety of toxins depending on the brand. Most common are nicotine and ethylphenol. These contaminates get into our ground water and also into the sewer systems that lead straight to the rivers. They're lethal to some organisms at the low dose of one butt per two gallons of water. There are areas around my school in which pedestrians can't avoid stepping on piles of butts - most notably where nurses from the neighbouring hospital gather to smoke. They all eventually get washed down the storm drains (the butts, not the nurses).

Filters are no longer made of cotton, but are plastic, specifically cellulose acetate. This photodegrades in sunlight (after about fifteen years) but doesn't bio-degrade. It breaks up into little bits that never disappear. Like other plastics, it's an endocrine disruptor which means it mimics or blocks some hormones which affect certain bodily functions. In some areas, male fish are becoming feminized.

Some studies suggest a returnable deposit be put on each cigarette filter. Cigarettes would cost more, but people could get some of the money back. But who would want to carry around their butts until they hit the store again? I prefer steep littering fines that specifically target cigarettes. If you were charged $1,000 every time you got caught littering (like in Calgary), you'd find a way to get your butts into a garbage can or butt bucket and out of my garden.

We're working on at least getting buckets full of sand around the school for smokers. A student in my OneEarth club insists they'll never get used. Why walk over to the bucket if you can just toss it on the ground? I don't know. Maybe we can get the message across that it's more than just their own lives at stake when they smoke. Maybe some will care more about the fish they could harm than themselves.

The problem still remains: do we put the buckets only where the students are allowed to smoke, or where the students actually do smoke?

At least with "e-cigarettes" there's no butts - see for yourself here:

1 comment:

Blogger said...

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