Protecting the Bay Is the Thing to Do—No Ifs, Ands or Butts

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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.

Click here to support Save The Bay’s efforts to preserve and protect the Bay’s waters.

How You Can Show Save The Bay Some Love on #GivingTuesday

#GivingTuesday Volunteering Save The Bay Restoraion Volunteers Habitat
Volunteering with Save The Bay is one of the many amazing ways you can give back on #GivingTuesday! Photo by Adrienne Warmsley

Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday. This formidable trio of dates are all about buying, buying, buying. But what about giving back? This year, Save The Bay is joining #GivingTuesday, a nationwide social media movement especially for nonprofits and other charitable organizations to mobilize their online communities into giving back.

Save The Bay offers three easy ways for our beloved community to get in on the #GivingTuesday action. So, in the generous and grateful spirit of the holiday season, read on and choose how you can show Save The Bay some love:


Save The Bay thrives on its volunteers. From November 2013 to November 2014, 5,748 volunteers logged 18,821 hours, put 21,393 plants in the ground, removed 34,558 invasive plant species, and collected 6,815 pounds of trash! How amazing is that? And the Bay is getting healthier and stronger because of all your hard work. #GivingTuesday is the perfect time to gather your friends, family, or organization together and pledge to get outside, have a blast, and lend Save The Bay a hand. We have public restoration programs every Saturday! Sign up to volunteer today.


This #GivingTuesday, become a Bay Sustainer. Bay Sustainers are a special group of Save The Bay members who offer regular monthly gifts to support our critical work to protect and restore San Francisco Bay. With your regular monthly gifts we can build a reliable foundation that helps us plan for the future – while saving the expense of renewal notices. Plus, Bay Sustainers receive an awesome, super-soft Save The Bay t-shirt, designed in collaboration with Oaklandish, in return for your commitment to us. Click here so you can start bragging to your friends about your Bay Sustainer status today.

Take Action!

Here at Save The Bay, we’re experts at telling lawmakers what we’re passionate about and why. We depend on people like you to send a strong message to decision makers about what matters to Bay Area residents. Right now, we’re calling on cities throughout the Bay Area to stop cigarette butt litter — one of the worst pollution problems facing the Bay — at its source by adopting and enforcing outdoor smoking bans that keep cigarette butts out of our Bay waters. Sign on to express your concern for cigarette butt litter and the effect it has on public health and the health of our Bay.

Join us on #GivingTuesday by showing how much you care for San Francisco Bay. Volunteer, donate, take action, tag Save The Bay on Facebook or Tweet at us and tell the world about why you’re thankful for our gorgeous Bay, using hashtags #GivingTuesday and #sfbaylove. With your help on social media and in the field on #GivingTuesday and beyond, San Francisco Bay’s flora, fauna, and rippling waters will become even more glorious than they already are.

No Butts About It – Cigarette Butt Litter is Unacceptable

“No Smoking” signs are posted on all bus stops in Oakland, but the practice is rarely enforced.

As part of our campaign for a Butt Free Bay, Save the Bay’s Pollution Prevention Team is designing a butt litter survey protocol to use in Bay Area cities to show where butt litter accumulates and to determine the effectiveness non-smoking signage and smoking restrictions.

Allison and I decided to test our survey methodology on the sidewalk in front of Save the Bay’s office in Downtown Oakland on Broadway between 13th and 14th. This is a busy block with a BART portal and three bus stops. The bus stops take up the majority of the sidewalk area. However, smoking is not permitted in or around bus stops in Oakland, so we shouldn’t have found many butts, right? Wrong.

We limited our survey to 30 minutes and in this timeframe, we collected 15 butts from two-thirds of the sidewalk and 55 butts from 1.5 bus stops. We couldn’t finish the remainder due to the amount of butt litter! We quickly scanned the rest of the area and saw at least 50 butts stuck in the metal tree grate, in sidewalk cracks, and surrounding the trash can. In fact, throughout the survey we saw butts we could not extract from sidewalk cracks–in essence, they had become one with the infrastructure.

Do people know it is illegal to smoke at bus stops in Oakland? Probably not. Non-smoking signage is inconspicuously placed among a dizzying array of transit information on signs inside and outside the bus shelter. And if people do see the signage, is there anything preventing them from smoking and littering their butts? Not really.

This is unacceptable. Oakland needs to do a better job of keeping cigarette butt litter out of our public places and waterways by enforcing its smoking restrictions and improving its signage.

Why are cigarette butts an acceptable form of litter anyway? Imagine if we had collected 70 plastic bags or plastic bottles? The City’s phone would ring off the hook with public complaints. Yet, we allow cigarette butts–a form of toxic, plastic trash–to invade our public spaces and waterways. Just because butts are tiny doesn’t mean they don’t negatively impact our environment. Their size is precisely what makes them more easily conveyed to the Bay through storm drains than other forms of litter.

Cigarette butts are the #1 form of garbage found on Coastal Cleanup Day in the Bay Area. This statistic needs to be reversed. Bay Area counties and municipalities can be regional leaders in this transformation by:
1. Adopting effective outdoor smoking bans in public places
2. Enforcing existing outdoor smoking restrictions
3. Educating the public about non-smoking policies and the detrimental impact cigarette butt litter has on our environment

Join Save the Bay in its campaign for a Butt Free Bay by telling your city’s leaders to adopt and enforce an outdoor smoking ban.

Weekly Roundup | September 5, 2013

Check out this week’s Weekly Roundup for breaking news affecting San Francisco Bay.newspaper

Southern California Public Radio 9/3/13
California spends $428M on waterway trash-fighting
California communities are spending $428 million a year to keep plastic and other trash off the streets and keep it from polluting waterways and beaches, an environmental group said in a new report. The study, released on Aug. 28, was based on information supplied by 95 communities around the state on how much they spent on street sweeping; litter pickup; waterway and beach cleanup; storm drain cleaning and maintenance; installation of devices to trap trash that flows down storm drains with runoff, and public education programs about litter’s impact on waterways.
Read more>>

SF Gate 9/1/13
San Francisco Before 1900
People from all around the world moved in, built a famous city, built factories on the bay shore, and by 1908 when the U.S.Navy’s Great White Fleet steamed in the Golden Gate, the whole world around San Francisco Bay was transformed in only 100 years. 2013 is the Year of the Bay. To celebrate, we’re opening up the Chronicle photography archives to an innovative crowdsourcing project at //, designed at Stanford University with nonprofit social technology partner Historypin. We’ll post the pics, but we need your help. We need you to tell us anything you know about the who, what, when, where of the scenes in these photos.
Read more>>

San Jose Mercury News 8/29/13
Massive new wetlands restoration reshapes San Francisco Bay
The Carneros region in southern Napa and Sonoma counties has been known for years for chardonnays, pinot noirs and merlots.But as the grapes hang plump on the vines awaiting the autumn harvest, this area along the northern shores of San Francisco Bay is growing a new bounty: huge numbers of egrets, herons, ducks, salmon, Dungeness crabs and other wildlife, all returning to a vast network of newly created marshes and wetlands. Construction crews and biologists are in the final stretch of a 20-year project to restore 11,250 acres of former industrial salt ponds back to a natural landscape. The aquatic renaissance is already the largest wetlands restoration project ever completed in the Bay Area, turning back the clock 150 years and transforming the area between Vallejo and Sonoma Raceway, despite little public awareness because of the distance from the Bay Area’s large cities.
Read more>>

Berkeleyside 9/5/13
Bird’s eye view: San Francisco Bay as seen from the air
The eyes of the Bay Area have been on the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge this week. The self-supported suspension span, conceived after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, took 24 years of planning and building, and $6.4 billion, to complete. But man has been building on the shores of San Francisco Bay for hundreds of years, and a new book and exhibit at the Oakland Museum of California documents those changes and pushes viewers to ask whether it has been for the good. Matthew Coolidge, one of the founders of the Center for Land Use Interpretation, a research and education organization that uses art and other methods to explore and examine landscape issues, is fascinated with man’s impact on the land. The organization got its start in an office in Jack London Square in Oakland in 1994, but now has offices and exhibition space in Los Angeles, and residency and research outposts in Wendover, Utah, the Mojave Desert, and Kansas.
Read more>>

San Jose Mercury News 9/3/13
California Coastal Cleanup 2013 targets cigarette butt trash
Every September, Coastal Cleanup Day analytical surveys of trash collected by volunteers create a snapshot of how much trash and what type of trash is polluting our waterways and ocean, in order to make changes to protect the environment. This year, on Saturday, Sept. 21, volunteers will again count collected trash.The number one piece of trash with 6,489,979 items collected in California from 1989 to 2012 (if you don’t count the countless pieces of plastic and Styrofoam) is the miserable, disgraceful, discarded cigarette butt. After group items such as food wrappers/containers and caps/lids, the group plastic and paper bags were 4th on the list, with a count of 1,374,381. And, you cannot have failed to notice that environmental stewards have managed to successfully campaign to change the availability of plastic bags in our society.
Read more>>

Weekly Roundup | August 29, 2013

Check out this week’s Weekly Roundup for breaking news affecting San Francisco Bay. newspaper

SF Gate 8/23/13
Dunkin’ Donuts searches for foam cup alternative
Dunkin’ Donuts sells more than 1.7 billion cups of coffee around the world each year – and many of those are served in a foam cup. That volume of trash would make any environmentalist pop a vein, and the doughnut chain’s disposable cups even became the topic of a petition that’s drawn nearly 125,000 signatures.
Read more>>

Marin Independent Journal 8/24/13
Volunteers pull invasive plants, protect marsh wildlife at Kentfield park
Mulcahy was one of 10 volunteers participating in the clean up at the Kentfield park Saturday. Members of Save The Bay, an organization that restores Bay Area habitats, organized the event in partnership with the Marin County Parks and Open Space District as part of an ongoing effort to protect the brackish marsh near the park. The organizations have been teamed up for about a year, holding 10 events to remove non-native plants, plant native ones and gather litter at the site — the only one in Marin County that Save The Bay helps maintain.
Read more>>

SF Gate 8/25/13
Sailing from the dock of the Bay
We tugged waterproof pants on over our own, zipped ourselves into jackets, dragged life vests over our heads and then, over those, bibs (to prevent any Velcro straps or zipper pulls getting entangled with the boat stuff). Then came the thrill, a sail aboard an Extreme 40 Catamaran, a fast boat that was state-of-the-art about two Cups ago.
We clambered aboard a variety of vessels to make our way – a strange term to use for water transportation, but the trip from the pier to catamaran involved two separate inflatable boats, the first of which sped through the water under the Bay Bridge – to the catamaran. En route, we strapped on helmets.
Read more>>

BBC News 8/26/13
Sea otter return boosts ailing seagrass in California
The return of sea otters to an estuary on the central Californian coast has significantly improved the health of seagrass, new research has found. Seagrass was deemed to be heading for extinction in this region before the otters returned.But scientists found that the animals triggered a chain reaction of events that boosted the water-dwelling plants. The urbanisation of California has led to a huge increase in nutrient pollution in coastal waters, from increasing use of nitrogen-rich fertilizers.
Read more>>

Mercury News 8/27/13
San Jose approves foam food container ban
San Jose will become one of the largest cities in the nation to ban plastic foam food containers when a law the City Council passed Tuesday takes effect next year. The council voted 9-2 to approve an ordinance that would ban the foam containers starting in January for large multistate restaurant chains and extend to small neighborhood eateries and other businesses a year later. San Jose is one of the largest among dozens of cities and counties including 70 in California that have approved bans and restrictions on the foam containers, which environmentalists say become more persistent and pervasive pollutants that harm wildlife than other packaging material that breaks down more easily.
Read more>>

Marin News 8/28/13
Cigarette eater meter in San Rafael collects 50,000 cigarette butts
Three months after its installation, a public art piece called a “cigarette eater meter” has collected 50,000 cigarette butts and in turn raised money for a local nonprofit. The 7-foot-tall meter was placed in the San Rafael city plaza on Fourth Street on May 30 as part of an effort by the San Rafael Clean Coalition to get litter off city streets. The coalition, a group of organizations and volunteers focused on keeping the city tidy, wants people to retrain themselves not to throw cigarette leftovers on the ground.
Read more>>