Cigarette Litter and the Environment
Tobacco products, including cigarette butts, are the most-littered item in America, representing nearly 38 percent of all items, according to "Litter in America," the Keep America Beautiful landmark 2009 study of litter and littering behavior. This research also showed that individuals who would never litter items such as beverage cans or paper packaging may not consider tossing cigarette butts on the ground "littering".
A cigarette butt dropped to the ground seems insignificant. But follow that butt as it's carried off by rain into storm drains and eventually to streams and rivers. It now adds up to a big impact on the places we live: In fact, 32% of litter at storm drains is tobacco products.
Cigarette butt litter creates blight. It accumulates in gutters, and outside doorways and bus shelters. It's the number one most littered item anywhere. Increasing amounts of litter in a business district, along riverfronts, or recreation areas create a sense that no one cares, leading to more community disorder and crime.
Cigarette butts don't disappear. About 95% of cigarette filters are composed of cellulose acetate, a form of plastic which does not quickly degrade and can persist in the environment.
Filters are harmful to waterways and wildlife. About 18% of litter, traveling primarily through storm water systems, ends up in local streams, rivers, and waterways. Nearly 80% of marine debris comes from land-based sources. Cigarette butt litter can also pose a hazard to animals and marine life when they mistake filters for food.
Westmoreland Cleanways Response
Westmoreland Cleanways will take part in a national program to reduce the impact of cigarette butt litter, the Keep America Beautiful Cigarette Litter Prevention Program (CLPP). In its first year, Westmoreland Cleanways is partnering with DCNR Keystone State Park and the Westmoreland County Bureau of Parks and Recreation to target cigarette butt litter at the beach area of Keystone State Park and throughout Twin Lakes Park.
The Keep America Beautiful Cigarette Litter Prevention Program tackles the issue by integrating four proven approaches:
- • encouraging enforcement of litter laws, including cigarette litter;
- • raising awareness about the issue using public service messages;
- • placing ash receptacles at transition points such as near entrances to public buildings; and
- • distributing pocket ashtrays to adult smokers.
In 2011, 252 communities across the country received grants to implement the CLPP in downtowns, roadways, beaches, parks, marinas, colleges/universities, tourist spots, and at special events. The communities reported an average 54 percent reduction in littered butts as a result of implementing the program.
Due to the proven track record of the KAB program, Westmoreland Cleanways was excited to bring the CLPP to Westmoreland County. Officials at Keystone State Park and Twin Lakes are also excited to have another resource to combat this perennial problem. Simple actions like installing ash receptacles and distributing pocket ashtrays will make a big difference in decreasing litter and ultimately keeping our parks beautiful.
National nonprofit Keep America Beautiful has field-tested and expanded the Cigarette Litter Prevention Program since 2003, funded by Philip Morris USA, an Altria company, and with additional support from RAI Services Company. Information about starting and maintaining a community Cigarette Litter Prevention Program is available online. The "Guide to Cigarette Litter Prevention" can be accessed through the Keep America Beautiful Web site www.kab.org or directly at www.preventcigarettelitter.org.
In 1990, Westmoreland Cleanways, then PA CleanWays of Westmoreland County, began an adoption program for county and local municipal roadways patterned after, and as a complement to, PennDOT’s Adopt-A-Highway Program. Currently, over 70 roadways are adopted by individuals, families, and businesses throughout the county.
Residents of Westmoreland County municipalities can adopt a section of road, a greenway, or even a community, agree to clean it up a couple times a year, and have their name and organization placed on a sign at each end of the adoption announcing to the public that the road is under the watchful eye of concerned residents. Municipal officials are often involved in local adoptions, assisting adopters with trash disposal, placement of signs, and special support that may be necessary. Westmoreland Cleanways provides supplies: trash bags, gloves, and safety vests, and has sets of safety signs and flags for use on particularly busy roads.
Road adopters list a variety of reasons for adopting their roads – pride in their neighborhood, community service, exercise, concern for the environment. Whatever the reason, road adopters perform a valuable service for their neighbors and for the environment by removing thousands of pounds of trash from our roadsides each year.
Road Adoption Procedures
Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful, Westmoreland Cleanways’ affiliate partner, oversees and administers the road adoption program across Pennsylvania. Applications for adoption and additional program information are available on Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful’s website. Adoption applications, cleanup reports, permission forms, and other correspondence are filed with Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful.
Westmoreland Cleanways works with Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful to support Westmoreland County road adopters; they handle the paperwork; we’re available for supplies, safety signs, and technical support.
Take the First Step
In an ideal world, everyone would have a litter bag in their car and take their trash home. Until then, carry a plastic bag with you while you walk, get your neighbors involved in a cleanup, or adopt your road or neighborhood. It requires little effort but makes an enormous difference in community pride and environmental health.