An important environmental issue was addressed by Wendy Koch in a front-page article in "USA Today" on June 19. Its headline reads "Recycling Programs Tackle Problem of Cigarette Butts" and its first line identifies cigarette butts as "the nation's top litter problem." The article cites a 2009 study for Keep America Beautiful, showing tobacco products make up 37.7 percent of highway litter, based on pieces per mile of roadway. Paper and plastic combined account for only a few more percentage points (41.2 percent) and the remaining 21.1 percent is composed of metal, glass, organic material, construction debris, vehicle debris and other. Ms. Koch points out, "Contrary to what many smokers may think, cigarette filters are not biodegradable. They are made with a plastic that can leach their toxic chemicals into the environment." Project Action Tobacco-Free Coalition and its members have been expressing similar concerns for some time now, advocating the use of tobacco-free outdoor areas to protect children and adults, as well as the environment.
The article describes the process involved in these cigarette butt recycling efforts, being proposed by private companies and public servants alike. It may be costly and time-consuming, and as one surfer points out, collecting the butts is a "very dirty, stinky job." Recycling may require a deposit to be paid with the purchase of cigarettes. Butts would have their toxic chemicals removed and would potentially be transformed into products such as industrial pallets, jewelry, vases and guitar picks.
From an environmental standpoint, it certainly seems ideal to find an effective and affordable way to make use of all this wasted pollutant material. But the bottom line, stated at the end of the article, is that "no amount of collecting and recycling, however, will solve the problem. In its most recent litter survey, Keep America Beautiful found cigarettes were the single largest item littered on roadways, accounting for [nearly] 38 percent of the total. Its main message: Don't litter."
It certainly makes the most sense to avoid this tobacco litter problem in the first place. One way is to keep parks, playgrounds and other outdoor areas such as entryways to buildings tobacco-free. Of course, this will produce many other benefits as well, including cleaner air to breathe and less potential for children to be poisoned by this toxic litter. For information, visit www.projectactionhfm.org.
HFM Prevention Council