One of the most widespread pollutants of the Bay is something that gets scant notice from passers-by, but remains surprisingly, and disturbingly, widespread: cigarette butts are polluting the Bay by the tens of thousands.
Cigarette butts are not biodegradable and contain toxic materials that can harm birds, animals and fish. Here’s a detailed fact sheet from The Cigarette Butt Pollution Project.
On a fine spring morning this May, a Save The Bay team fanned out across San Mateo to do a survey of just how many cigarette butts get tossed as litter. Why San Mateo? That’s because the San Mateo City Council enacted an ordinance that went into effect Nov. 15, 2015. We wanted to see how that ordinance is playing out on the streets. This was a follow-up to a survey done in 2014.
In a daylong expedition, the team surveyed shopping centers, parks, bus stops and city sidewalks. The team gingerly plucked cigarette butts with gloved hands and deposited them in collections bags, maintaining a tally as we went along. Curious citizens asked what the heck we were doing, giving us a chance to explain about the hazards of cigarette butts. Our efforts were greeted with supportive comments, whether from shoppers or street people.
We picked up a grand total of 3,056 butts from 15 sites. That’s compared with 2,635 found in survey Save The Bay did at the same sites in 2014.
The results show there’s still a long way to go in the battle against the butts. Here’s what we found as Ethan Tucker, policy associate with Save the Bay, reported in this summary:
“Overall, at the sites we surveyed in San Mateo we found a slight but substantial increase in cigarette litter. Though the city passed a smoking ordinance in 2015 that prohibits smoking at parks and recreation areas, on city sidewalks, and at bus stops it is clear that the ban has not been implemented effectively. We expected to see a reduction in the amount of cigarette litter found at these sites since the ban has been in place for over a year. However, 12 of the 15 sites that we looked at had more cigarette litter in 2016 than they had in 2014, additionally, we noticed that even though a smoking ban is now in place at most of the sites we surveyed, an ordinary passerby would have no way of knowing that smoking is not permitted since most of these areas are without any signage.”
Despite public awareness about the health hazards of smoking, much remains to be done to get the butts off the streets and out of the Bay environment. With your help, progress is being made. In April, the East Bay Regional Parks District’s Board of Directors adopted a policy that will prohibit smoking in most areas of the parks. This will help keep the toxic litter out of creeks that flow to the bay.
What can you do? Contact your local government representatives and encourage them to adopt and enforce anti-smoking and anti-litter laws.