From Mary Burgan. She normally reviews movies as the Borderstan Movie Fan, but sometimes veers into the area of urban etiquette. You can email her at mary[AT]borderstan.com.
Far fewer people smoke today than they did several decades ago. I believe that in the 1960s, about half of all Americans were smokers,
However, cigarette butts have not disappeared from our sidewalks — and some guests at your home parties are still going to want to smoke, somewhere.
But it is the butts on the sidewalk that are the real danger — to the environment, not to mention the risk of smoking for the individual. That is why there are more reasons than mere etiquette for smokers to stop putting out their cigarettes on the sidewalk.
Cigarette butts are an environmental hazard. They comprise almost a quarter of all litter in any year. And when they are flipped on the street, they get washed from the sidewalk to the sewer and then to local streams and then to the general water supply.
Cigarette filters are not biodegradable; they are made from cellulose acetate, a kind of plastic. As they disintegrate, slowly, in water, they can release toxic chemicals including nicotine, benzene and cadmium.
According to one study at San Diego State, one butt has enough poisons to kill half the minnows in a liter of water — a standard laboratory test for toxins — in 96 hours. Beach communities, like surfer groups in San Diego, are most likely to emphasize cigarette butt disposal.
In the meantime, they may be ingested by fish or other animals – even children.
So what to do about cigarette butts?
One solution: The city should attach fire-proof attachments to public trash cans. The fact is that public ashtrays are few and far between on the streets these days.
The first thing, of course, is to be aware of the problem. But smokers, already feeling under attack for smoking, may resist when scolded about keeping their butts to themselves.
As a former smoker, I speak from experience. And very few of us are going to challenge a friend or stranger, for putting a cigarette out on the sidewalk.
The Place for Cigarette Butts
The first step is to put receptacles in the right places:
- Homeowners should provide ashtrays for outside events, especially when a big party is coming up.
- Restaurants should install outdoor cigarette receptacles as permanent features of their sidewalk cafes.
- Multi-unit residences such as apartment complexes should have outdoor receptacles at their entrances.
- The city should attach fire-proof attachments to public trash cans. The fact is that public ashtrays are few and far between on the streets these days.
- Meanwhile, anyone can stub out a cigarette — making sure it’s no longer a fire hazard — and put it in some waste receptacle nearby.
And then … there are such things as personal ashtrays, though few people know about them. Google “personal (or pocket) ashtray” to see a display of possibilities; you can order online. One version actually looks like a human butt!
Most of us are not aware of the ecological damage caused by cigarette butts. Now that you know about it, though, it is time to stop flipping your butts on the street.