Are Butts the New Bottles? NY Proposes Cigarette Butt Redemption Program

A NY Cigarette Butt Redemption Bill stands to keep cigarette butts off the streets and out of the water. If the bill passes, this frog will be one happy croaker. CC image courtesy of Bradley Gordon 2008
A NY Cigarette Butt Redemption Bill stands to keep cigarette butts off the streets and out of the water. If the bill passes, this frog will be one happy croaker.
CC image courtesy of Bradley Gordon 2008

New York Assemblymember Michael DenDekker is not one to wait around for easy answers.  As a retired NYC Sanitation Worker, DenDekker knows firsthand the scale of America’s tobacco litter problem.  And, as a politician, he knows firsthand the impact this litter has on our economy.

His solution?  Create a redemption program (similar to the current CRV for bottles and cans) to incentivize smokers to properly dispose of their butts.  The bill (A3756) will add a 1-cent deposit on every cigarette.  The money generated will fund collection costs of the returned butts as well as an anti-litter public outreach campaign.  The returned butts will be recycled into solvents that prevent rust or raw material for making plastic molds.

The result?  A healthier environment, less litter in the streets, less public funds spent on cleanup of preventable pollution, and the creation of new jobs and new raw materials.  NYC spends up to $500,000 annually in solid waste cost to dispose of cigarette butts alone.  That’s a significant amount the city stands to save were all these butts recycled instead of landfilled or littered.  “The bill saves taxpayer money, creates new jobs, and has a positive environmental impact,” says DenDekker.  “That makes it a win-win.”

Save The Bay has been hard at work preventing pollution in the San Francisco Bay by advocating for polystyrene (“Styrofoam”) and plastic bag bans throughout the region.  Today, more than 50% of Bay Area residents live in communities that have banned plastic bags, and over 30 cities and counties in the area have banned polystyrene food ware in restaurants.  Save The Bay is proud of our accomplishments, but we know that the fight against pollution is far from over.

According to the Ocean Conservancy, cigarette butt litter accounts for one in every five items collected during cleanups, making it the most prevalent form of litter on earth.  It is estimated that 4.5 trillion cigarette butts, representing 1.7 billion pounds, end up as litter around the world each year.  Cigarette filters are made out of cellulose acetate, a type of plastic which never biodegrades.

San Francisco estimates that it spends a total of 11 million dollars annually cleaning up butts.  Discarded carelessly on city streets and washed straight into the Bay through storm drains, tobacco waste is the most pernicious item to enter bay waters, costing our cities millions of dollars in cleanup, harming local wildlife, and creating a serious eyesore for residents.

Tobacco litter poses a major threat to the health of the San Francisco Bay, and the problem calls for creative and innovative policy solutions like that presented by Assemblyman DenDekker.  At the same time, there are multiple ways you can personally contribute to a more beautiful, healthy, and thriving San Francisco Bay.  If you smoke, always throw your butts away in trash cans and encourage others to do the same; ask your elected officials what they are doing to address the tobacco pollution issue, and join a cleanup day with Save The Bay.