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.

13 thoughts on “Are Butts the New Bottles? NY Proposes Cigarette Butt Redemption Program

  1. The concept of a deposit will only work if the smoker is willing to accumulate the butts for return. Tobacco industry research has shown that is unlikely to happen because smokers want to distance themselves from the butts as quickly as possible. Now, if the deposit were high enough, say $1.00 per stick, that attitude might change.

  2. Very interesting and creative idea from many angles–should definitely be pursued here. I think it could work at 2¢ too…

  3. In California, cigarette litter represents nearly 40% of litter collected at Coastal Cleanup Day! Since 1989, when volunteers began collecting data, volunteers collected over 6 million cigarette butts and filters (which is 39.35% of the total items collected).

  4. What a great idea! to make it real however the amount redeemed would have to be 5 cents or more. I’m all for throwing on an extra $1 per pack for litter removal.

  5. Yes! 1 cent per cig. A friend and I just traversed the whole lake all 5 miles of it near our homes in San Francisco. We picked up garbage the whole way. We didn’t even set out to do this. So the whole way many cigarette butts. Plus all kinds of other stuff, but yeah. Too much already! So sore from stooping down to pick up these things. So. YES!

  6. I am a cigarette smoker but have “field-stripped” my butts for the 40 years that I’ve had this nasty habit and then have disposed of them properly. BUT it seems that the majority of cigarette smokers DO use the ground as their ashtray. To make this even CLOSE to being effective at reducing the number of butts on the ground and in our waterways, the “butt deposit” should be AT LEAST 10 CENTS … THAT will help create a group of folks who are willing to go through a gutter or parking lot in order to get enough butts to make it worth their time and effort … OTHER side = this has GOT to be either a nationwide “butt deposit” OR the butts must be easily identified as having been sold (and having been levied the “butt deposit”) here in California … I DON’T want people from Nevada and Arizona bringing in giant trashbags full of discarded cigarette butts and then have California residents pay the price for cleaning up the streets and gutters of OTHER states.

  7. Tis truly amazingly simple, isn’t it. I thought of this remedy about 15years ago when I picked up 700 “butts” during a coast cleanup day. I’m glad someone took it up now.

  8. I think it’s a great idea. I pick up litter on the beach with the Pacifica beach coalition, and the number one item we find the most of is cigarette butts. We need to do something about this problem, and this is a great solution.

  9. This is a great idea. In addition, I propose making a nation wide law that makes disguarding a lit citterette into anything but a fire proof recepticle “attempted arson”. Fire departments nation wide have spent undoubted millions fighting ciggerette caused fires, including forest fires.

  10. Thanks for all your comments in response to this post! It is great to see so much interest and support for legislation on cigarette litter here in the Bay Area.

    As many of you point out, there is not one simple solution to this pollution problem. As an organization with the mission of preserving and restoring the San Francisco Bay, we focus on local and regional responses to the pollution making its way into our waters. Effective local and regional legislation is the best way to start a conversation about changing smoker’s habits and reducing pollution from coast to coast. (While a state ban on plastic bags has been stalled in Sacramento for years, Save The Bay has helped over 40 cities and counties in the Bay Area pass their own bag bans.) That being said, were a cigarette litter bill passed on a regional or even state level, how would it ensure that butts aren’t imported to be exchanged for in-state funds? Is a 1-cent deposit really enough to change smokers’ disposal habits?

    These are just the sorts of questions Assemblymember Dendekker will have to answer as he moves forward with A5047 in New York. Save The Bay is staying tuned to the bill’s progress in hopes of learning best practices we can translate into legislative solutions to the cigarette litter in and around our own beloved San Francisco Bay.

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