Small litter such as gum wrappers, bottle caps, straws, and cigarette butts may seem harmless, but in reality they accumulate over time and pose a threat to the environment and our economy. Fort Lauderdale sees all these types of trash and more on our beaches, but the litter that requires the most attention is cigarette butts.
The Ocean Conservancy’s annual International Coastal Cleanup (ICC) reports that worldwide “cigarette butts have been the single most recovered item since collections began.” Data from the annual ICC shows that in 2010, for example, over one million cigarettes or cigarette filters were removed from American beaches and inland waterways. These small pieces of trash are not only unattractive but are also harmful to the environment and marine life.
The filter in a cigarette butt is made of a plastic called cellulose acetate which can take up to twenty-five years to break down and during this time it can be ingested by marine life. If an animal eats cigarette butts, they can block the digestive tract or fill its stomach, causing malnutrition or starvation. The toxic chemicals and carcinogens found in the butts’ filters and any remnant tobacco are quickly leached from the butts by water. These chemicals contaminate waterways and poison wildlife.
Discarded cigarette butts in the streets are a problem too, and they can affect our beaches as well. Butts can be carried as runoff from streets into our storm drains. These drains lead to our canals and other waterways and eventually to the ocean and so those butts can end up on our beaches!
Every two weeks the City of Fort Lauderdale collects 8,000 to 10,000 cigarette butts from a section along Las Olas beach that is only one third of a mile long. The cleanup costs the City over $31,000 a year to collect cigarette butts and other small debris. Litter on the beach also negatively impacts our economy because it is unattractive to tourists. Since our beaches are attractive to tourists and neighbors alike and the nearby businesses depend on people visiting our beaches, it is important to keep them clean. Please do your part and properly dispose of your cigarettes in a waste receptacle on the beach, around town or at home.
Ocean Conservancy educates and empowers citizens to take action on behalf of the ocean. They offer extensive information on the relationship between clean beaches and clean water, as well as a way to participate in the world's largest cleanup event, the International Coastal Cleanup.
If you are a beachfront property manager, the U.S. EPA offers helpful tips for controlling litter from cigarette butts.