June 15, 2015

Butt out butts

Cigarette butts are estimated to be 38 percent of our roadside litter. And in France on a recent visit we noticed wall to wall butts at every train stop. No such sight in Williamsburg at the Amtrak station, I am proud to report.

So it is very fitting that seven Hampton Roads localities, in partnership with askHRgreen.org, are taking part this summer in a national Keep America Beautiful program to reduce the impact of cigarette butt litter in the region. 

Focusing on the theme “Cigarette butts = litter,” the askHRgreen.org Cigarette Litter Prevention Program launched at these project sites, following a pre-scan of the areas to determine the extent of the cigarette litter. 
• Hampton – Buckroe Beach 
• James City County – Commuter parking off Interstate 64 at Croaker Road 
• Newport News – Hilton Village at Warwick Blvd. and Main St. 
• Norfolk – City Hall Plaza 
• Portsmouth – Ntelos Pavilion
• Suffolk – Downtown in the Main Street area
• Virginia Beach – Lake Smith/Lake Lawson Natural Area, off North Hampton Blvd. 

“Cigarette butt litter has been documented as the most frequently littered item of waste in the United States, and Hampton Roads is no different,” said John Deuel, the project leader of the grant program. “In a pre-scan of the project sites, volunteers found 3,223 cigarette butts and plastic cigar tips. If this amount of cigarette butt litter is happening in just these seven locations, imagine how much litter we’re dealing with throughout the region.” 

So participating city and county litter prevention employees and volunteers will roll out tactics and messaging at each project site to try to turn smokers’ behavior around. As part of the $12,500 grant, Keep America Beautiful has provided 35 new free-standing and wall mounted cigarette butt receptacles to be placed in strategic site locations, in addition to 4,000 hand-held pocket ashtraysand 1,000 portable auto ashtrays to be distributed to adult smokers. 

Additional project resources were provided by askHRgreen.org with $5,000, raised from its 2014 Keep Hampton Roads Beautiful Golf Tournament. These funds contributed to new signage, guiding smokers to the receptacles, and educational materials, emphasizing the impact of cigarette butt litter, which will be distributed to smokers during times when the sites are at peak use. 

Localities also have invited community members and local business and government representatives, who live near, maintain or use the sites, to advise on where to place the receptacles, when to distribute the ashtrays and the types of awareness techniques that might work best. 

Cigarette filters are not biodegradable because they contain cellulose acetate, a form of plastic that will persist in the environment. 

In late-August, campaign participants will conduct a follow-up scan at each project site to determine if cigarette butt litter has decreased and if so, by how much. A follow-up report will be presented in October to Hampton Roads government officials, and shared with business owners and property managers, as well as to those involved with the Virginia Marine Debris Reduction Plan through the Virginia Coastal Zone Management program. 

Communities that implement the Keep America Beautiful Cigarette Litter Prevention Program consistently cut cigarette butt litter by half. The Hampton Roads campaign is unique in that it is being implemented simultaneously in multiple localities. Deuel says the national group is looking at the Hampton Roads project as a pilot program, whose results will be shared in a national report.

Amazingly. . . 
 • Recycling Butts? Yes You Can! TerraCycle, working with the Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company, turns cigarette waste into industrial products such as plastic pallets. They accept butts, filters, loose tobacco pouches, outer plastic packaging, inner foil packaging, rolling paper and ash. Collect the debris in a plastic bag and ship to the company for recycling. For every pound of waste collected, Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company donates $1 toward the Keep America Beautiful Cigarette Littler Prevention Program. Details at www.terracycle.com