Let's Talk Trash: Butt out responsibly

Cigarette butts look pretty innocent when compared with other types of litter, but don’t let their size fool you.

Their so-called strength is in numbers, with an estimated one million butts tossed in Vancouver daily, and nearly five trillion worldwide per year. Instead of a small nuisance, they are a major eyesore and pollutant, not to mention a fire hazard.

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One improperly disposed butt can contaminate 7.5 litres of water with chemicals such as arsenic, ammonia and lead in just an hour. These are potentially lethal to aquatic life if they leach into their environment. Proper disposal can also help us dampen fire season, as about 40 per cent of forest fires are caused by humans, including our unextinguished cigarettes.

Most of us realize that flicking a butt out a car window is irresponsible, and that tossing them on the pavement is careless, but what is the right place? In recent years, the options have extended beyond public ashtrays on garbage can lids.

Pocket ashtrays are the latest innovation for smokers. These soft, lightweight pouches have a fireproof lining that puts out the cigarette, and also locks in odour. All this in a handy size that fits inside a pocket or on a belt.

They come in a variety of looks, with some even donning inspiring works of art. One company tested out its pockets at Texada Island’s Diversity Festival to reduce the litter and fire risks at the outdoor summer gathering. City of Vancouver just launched a pilot project, distributing 3,500 pocket ashtrays to smokers in an attempt to address its litter issue.

One surprising addition to managing cigarette residuals has been TerraCycle’s recycling program for them. The company accepts a variety of materials for free recycling, and in the case of cigarettes, even donates $1 to the non-profit of your choice for every pound collected. Any adult or organization can sign up for free to become a collector, and once a shipment is ready, print out a free shipping label that UPS then picks up. Some municipalities are creating drop-off bins throughout to assist with collection.

The tobacco and paper are composted, while the acetate cellulose from the filters is cleaned, melted and then made into pellets. These are then combined with other plastics to make products like ashtrays (talk about close looped), and shipping pallets.

Accepted items include dry and extinguished cigarettes, ash, filters, loose tobacco, rolling paper and the cigarette packaging foil. Everything must be collected in a resealable bag, a disposable plastic container, a plastic bag, or even a garbage bag (that’s a lot of smoke breaks).

What you do to your body is your business, but what you do to the planet is everyone’s. If you indulge in a cigarette socially or regularly, butt out responsibly.

Let’s Talk Trash is qathet Regional District’s waste-reduction education program.

Copyright © Powell River Peak

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