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resort_hotel_litter_participants13 Virginia Beach resort hotels are participating in a pilot program to reduce beach cigarette litter. Learn more about the project on the VB Cigarette Litter Prevention Facebook Page. Enlarge Image / View Interactive Map.

Getting Butts off the Beach

Posted 5 June 2015 by Carol Brighton - See Update

Several hotels in Virginia Beach are participating in an initiative to reduce beachfront cigarette butt litter. According to the local campaign coordinator, Christina Trapani, volunteers are working with 13 resort area hotels for this pilot project. To help keep the beach clean, several cigarette collection receptacles will be installed on the boardwalk between 20th and 24th streets at the Oceanfront. Staff at all the mapped hotels will also distribute personal pocket ashtrays designed for portable disposal as well as educational materials explaining the campaign to employees and guests. The project is being organized by Clean Virginia Waterways and is supported by local volunteers from Surfrider Foundation and the Navy Fleet Readiness Center. It is one of 70 new endeavors nationwide funded in March by Keep America Beautiful's Cigarette Litter Prevention Program (CLPP). And the companies sponsoring the program are none other than tobacco industry giants Philip Morris USA; RAI Services Company; and the Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company.

Despite declining smoking rates, conservation organizations rank cigarette remnant as the #1 litter source. Cigarette butts consistently top the list of waste collected in area cleanups around the globe and at local events like the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s annual “Clean the Bay Day”on June 6.

While commonly considered biodegradable, ubiquitous filter debris is in fact quite pervasive and, at best, very slow to break down into shredded plastic bits. Frequently flicked away, cigarette butts containing cellulose acetate or wood-derived spun plastic permeate the landscape and eventually are carried by storm drainage into local waterways. There they release hazardous compounds used to manufacture the material as well as toxic substances that accumulate when smoke is sucked through the filter.

terracycleTerracycle of Trenton, NJ operates a free postage paid cigarette upcycling program. Learn more by watching this NatGeo video about Terracycle. Join the program here. Image: Terracycle

Reducing Litter & Upcycling Cigarette Butts

Collection campaigns conducted at beach areas and urban centers have demonstrated impressive litter reduction rates. Keep America Beautiful reports that cigarette litter declines on average by about half. While reducing litter, butts collected in Virginia Beach and elsewhere will serve as a new reusable resource. Terracycle, a NJ company formed to find unique waste stream solutions, will upcycle the cigarette filters into useful products. Company founder and CEO Tom Szaky estimates that 37% of all cigarettes end up as roadway litter which is about 4.5 trillion cigarette a year around the world. To turn the world's largest waste stream into a resource, the company has developed an innovative model to collect cigarette butts and process them into park benches and pallets. Through a partnership with Santa Fe Natural Tobacco, any organization can create an account and send butts to Terracycle for recycling through a free postage paid system.  Szaky claims the capacity to recycle billions of cigarettes exists. The issue is not whether the resource can be upcycled, its whether community collection programs can successfully encourage individuals to participate.

In addition to plastic products currently derived from cigarette filters, scientists from South Korea have found that the material found in filters appears ideal for use in energy storage devices, specifically supercapacitators. With the potential of creating high performing low cost energy storage from the waste stream, the demand for butts and recycling efforts is likely to expand.

Bounty for Butts - Litter Removal Initiative in San Rafael, CA - Image: SanRafaelVolunteers.org

Enticing Community Participation with Rewards

Where smoking or litter bans exist and are enforced, there is also a noticeable decline in tobacco debris. However endeavors that would allow local beach smoking bans have failed in the Virginia General Assembly. Creative ways to encourage butt contributions are being explored. In California a gigantic cigarette eater meter very successfully generated community involvement in a litter reduction campaign in San Rafael. The Bounty for Butts installation positively influenced both community and individual action to properly disposal of cigarette litter. For every butt inserted, two cents were donated to a local charity. In the Netherlands, another art installation is enticing smokers to to do the right thing and provides an instantaneous reward. Each deposit prompts music and a LED light show. Watch the embedded video below to see public interaction with the device.

Benefits to communities that participate in such programs go beyond aesthetics and the economic implications associated with a clean environment: There are also real cost savings related to reduced street cleaning and landfilling expenses.  The Virginia Beach Cigarette Litter Prevention Program is monitoring pre and post program litter rates. You can follow the effort on Facebook.


Ioglo's smoke pole encourages proper cigarette disposal with a reward: A music and and LED light show when deposits are made.




UPDATE - Hampton Roads Planning District Commission to add 7 butt receptacle recycling locations around the region this summer. View interactive map | HRPDC Program Link.

More information on Coastal Cleanups can be found in the embedded Ocean Conservancy Publication below.

View a Listing of Recent Features

More stories about the waste stream:

Splendor in the Trash | Waste as a Resource

Celebrating the Sea & Talking Trash



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