This is Litter Too

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I know a lot of people who smoke. Despite NYC’s valiant attempts to ban smoking in bars, restaurants, public spaces, parks and beaches, city folk just seem to like cigarettes more than most. Every day I see people, strangers and acquaintances alike finish their cig, drop it on the ground, stomp it out and walk away.

These same people would never consider dropping their disposable coffee cup on the sidewalk. They wouldn’t crumple up a napkin and let it fall as they crossed the street. And yet, when they are smoking it doesn’t occur them to trash their butt in the appropriate receptacle. In fact, I have only known one person ever who I have seen stub out the ash, and toss in the trash every cigarette she ever smoked.

So, why isn’t dropping a cigarette butt on the ground considered littering? How do these otherwise environmentally conscious people feel ok just leaving their butts on the sidewalk, or stuck in the sand at the beach? Why isn’t cigarette littering as socially sanctioned as other kinds?

Some speculate that it is because smoking originated as an indoor habit, where smokers easily disposed of butts in the provided ashtray. They have obviously never seen the floor of a bar after a night out in the few areas of the U.S. that still allow smoking in establishments. Others speculate that the habit originated when cigarettes were filter-less, and the leftover paper and tobacco merely scattered in the wind. But how has the habit persisted to today? Some people think that butts are made of cotton, a natural fiber.

But they’re not. Cigarette butts are made of plastic. They do not biodegrade. They contain chemicals that are harmful to children and animals that may scoop them up and eat them, and their total mass is large enough that it’s harmful to the environment. Let’s use portable ash trays, install more butt receptacles, and just be a little more aware that cigarette butts are trash. Can we try to put them where they belong?

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