Earth Day Cleanup For a #ButtFreeBay

Earth Day Cigarette Butt Cleanup
Volunteers collected 7,873 cigarette butts our Earth Day Cleanup in El Cerrito.

Thank you so much to everyone who came out to participate in our Earth Day Cigarette Butt Cleanup in El Cerrito last month! The event was a huge success, and the city was so grateful for the help you all provided. We had over 30 people join us on April 18, including EarthTeam, an organization of local students that has been tracking and working to reduce litter in the Bay Area as well. Check out their interactive Zero Litter map here!

With our volunteers, we were able to clean and survey four main areas of the city to analyze where cigarette debris is accumulating. The city of El Cerrito adopted an outdoor smoking ordinance at the beginning of this year, and we were interested in surveying the downtown area of El Cerrito to help the city monitor its progress in reducing cigarette litter and reducing exposure to second hand smoke. In under 3 hours, our volunteers were able to collect a total of 7,873 cigarettes, and the city as a whole collected a total of 12,236 cigarettes!

Some of the areas we found with the greatest number of cigarettes included the BART station area on nearby sidewalks and the Ohlone Greenway, as well as bus stops near shopping centers, bars on San Pablo avenue, and a Police and Fire station. We found almost 900 cigarettes at the BART station alone.

El Cerrito’s outdoor smoking ordinance is a huge step toward reducing the city’s cigarette litter and keeping local waterways clean of this toxic trash, but the ordinance requires a stronger approach to compliance and enforcement. Although the ordinance is relatively new, as it went into effect in January,  the city has made some efforts to inform the public about the new legislation. Mailers have been sent to citizens and signs were posted on San Pablo Avenue, but the amount of cigarette litter present suggests that many people are unaware of the new ordinance.

In order for the ordinance to have the intended effects of reducing toxic litter and protecting the public from the detrimental effects of secondhand smoke, stronger compliance and enforcement methods need to be implemented, especially in hot spot areas for cigarette butts. Visible signage in polluted areas is a good first step – we did not see any “no smoking” signs at bus stops along San Pablo Ave., nor anywhere along the Ohlone Greenway. The BART station was another striking hot spot – the City of El Cerrito should work with BART to drastically reduce the flow of cigarette butts from the BART station and parking lot into local waterways and storm drains. Working with businesses is also necessary, to help them understand the new restrictions and to explore ways that they can be partners in establishing smoke free commercial areas.

El Cerrito’s ordinance has the potential to create a healthier community and protect local waterways, but the amount of cigarette litter we collected shows that outdoor smoking is continuing at an alarming rate, threatening the health of El Cerrito residents and the Bay. We urge the city to prioritize the outreach and enforcement strategies necessary to ensure the successful implementation of this ordinance.