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.

Kicking Butts in El Cerrito

3 billion cigarette butts are littered in the Bay Area each year.
3 billion cigarette butts are littered in the Bay Area each year.

Update 10/8/14: We’re excited to announce that the El Cerrito City Council unanimously approved the Smoking Pollution Protection Ordinance at last night’s council meeting! Save the Bay looks forward to working with El Cerrito to implement the ordinance and keep butts out of the city’s waterways and the Bay.

For more information about cigarette butt litter in the Bay Area, check out our butt hot spot map:
Interactive Map: Bay Area Cigarette Butt Litter Hot Spots

Last week, the El Cerrito City Council tentatively approved one of the strongest smoking ordinances in the state, confirming their commitment to keeping cigarette butts out of the Bay.

The Smoking Pollution Protection Ordinance, which the council will finalize in October, will ban smoking in almost all public outdoor places in El Cerrito. That means smoke-free shopping areas, sidewalks, parks, outdoor dining areas, bus stops – you name it. The ordinance will also establish smoke-free multiunit housing, which includes condos, townhomes, and apartment buildings.

Not only will El Cerrito’s ordinance protect the public from the dangerous impacts of second-hand smoke, it is a huge step in achieving a Butt Free Bay. Limiting outdoor smoking reduces the opportunity for cigarette butts to be littered on city streets, flow into storm drains and creeks, and threaten water quality and wildlife in the Bay. If a single cigarette butt can kill half the fish in a liter of water, imagine the damage from the estimated 3 billion butts littered in our region each year.

During the ordinance planning process, Save The Bay helped to ensure that the litter problem caused by outdoor smoking was a priority consideration. El Cerrito, like 75 other Bay Area cities and counties, is required to eliminate trash from their storm drains and creeks by 2022; in three years, cities have to demonstrate that they’ve achieved a 70 percent reduction. This is a huge endeavor, and the only way cities will reach this goal is by addressing the most comment types of trash in our waterways – cigarette butts top the chart by leaps and bounds.

Please join us in thanking the El Cerrito City Council for taking this vital step toward a trash free Bay and for being a model for the rest of the Bay Area.

El Cerrito stepping up to the plate on trash

Styrofoam polluting Coyote Creek
Volunteers pull Styrofoam out of Coyote Creek in San Jose, May 2013.

While Alameda County has banned plastic bags and is home to many Styrofoam bans, neighboring Contra Costa County has been lagging behind this regional trend… until recently.  Recyclemore, west Contra Costa County’s recycling and waste management agency, just took the lead in developing a model ordinance to ban plastic bags.  It’s now up to the cities in the west county to adopt the policy, and El Cerrito is batting first.

The ordinance would ban plastic bags at all retail stores; restaurants and non-profits are exempt.  While plastic bags will no longer be available, customers can purchase a paper bag for five cents.  Or, they can avoid the charge by bringing their own bags – pretty simple.  This ordinance would actually go beyond the plastic bag policies in place in Alameda County, which only ban plastic bags at retailers that sell food.  To maintain regional consistency, we are encouraging Alameda County to consider improving their ordinance within the next year.

El Cerrito isn’t stopping at plastic bags – the council is simultaneously considering a ban on Styrofoam food ware.  Currently, only a couple cities in the county have Styrofoam bans.  It makes sense to consider these ordinances together, as both products are ubiquitous litter items in our creeks and along the Bay shoreline.  Both products do not biodegrade, and both are constantly picked up by volunteers during creek cleanups.

We can imagine – in the not so distant future – a time when plastic bags and Styrofoam do not make it into the top ten litter items collected on Coastal Cleanup Day.  El Cerrito and the rest of Contra Costa County play a major role in making that a reality.

Do you live in El Cerrito?  Voice your support for a plastic bag and Styrofoam ban at one of the upcoming public meetings: Tuesday, June 11, 2013 at 7 p.m. and Tuesday, July 9, 2013 at 7 p.m.