San Rafael’s Cigarette Eater Meter Raises Awareness of the Dangers of Cigarette Litter

tobacco litter
Photo credit:

While most people are aware of the harmful effects that smoking has on public health and air quality, few understand the detrimental impact discarded cigarette butts have on our environment. They may be small, but in numbers, cigarette butts are the most commonly littered items in our environment. They are highly toxic to wildlife, spoil water quality, and are not biodegradable.

In order to better educate the public on the dangers of cigarette litter, the San Rafael Clean Coalition created the Cigarette Eater Meter. Launched on Thursday, May 30, and located in San Rafael City Plaza, the Cigarette Eater Meter is “an interactive education piece as well as a unique receptacle for capturing cigarette litter.”

Cigarette butts are more toxic than most people realize. Cigarette filters are made of cellulose acetate, a plastic, which never biodegrades. Cigarette butts may start out as unsightly street litter, but they are swept into storm drains by rain. From there, they might join the ever-growing accumulation of plastic debris filling our oceans and waterways, or they might be consumed by Bay wildlife. Animals fill up on plastic litter that they are unable to digest and they eventually starve to death because they are no longer able to eat. Cigarette butts also leach dangerous chemicals into the water. A San Diego State University study showed that one unfiltered cigarette butt had the toxicity to kill half of the fish in a one-liter container of water. Another study found that cigarette butts leach metals into the water for at least a month after being discarded.

Many smokers believe that cigarette filters are biodegradable, or think that, because cigarette butts are so small, their environmental impact must be negligible. People who would never dream of discarding a soiled food container or coffee cup in the street don’t consider flicking a cigarette butt onto the ground littering.

Part educational tool, part litter receptacle, part art installation, and part charity fundraiser, the Cigarette Eater Meter was designed by Marin artists Ventana Amico and Enrique Goldberg. For every cigarette butt deposited into the meter a one-cent donation will be made to San Rafael’s St. Vincent de Paul Society, a local nonprofit. We are excited to see that the San Rafael Clean Coalition has found a fun way of raising awareness about the issue of cigarette litter in its community. We hope other cities will follow in San Rafael’s footsteps and begin taking steps to address cigarette litter as an issue affecting the health of our waterways and the Bay.