Cigarette buts are most-littered item

The final drag of a cigarette is inhaled, held in the mouth and slowly exhaled as satisfaction consumes the smoker.  The cigarette has done its job and is now flicked to the ground on a downtown Athens street corner.

Cigarette butts are the most littered item in America, according to a BioCycle article.  Across the world, several trillion cigarette butts are improperly disposed of every year.  Cigarette butts are not biodegradable, according to Why Quit Web site.  As a result it can take up to 15 years for the fibers in cigarette butts to decay, releasing deadly cargo as they do.

Keep Athens-Clarke County Beautiful works towards a cleaner, more beautiful community by improving attitudes and behaviors regarding the environment, according to their Web site.  KACCB initiatives include creating programs that focus on the reduction of litter, beautification efforts and overall community improvement.

The KACCB division is a non-profit organization that is housed under the Solid Waste Department.  This organization collaborates with other non-profits and government agencies to create programs that benefit the community and encourage good recycling and litter reduction behaviors, executive director, Stacee Farrell explained.

Through the KACCB, research was conducted by J House Media which revealed that people feel it’s okay to litter in the following situations:

1. Where litter is cleaned up periodically – such as parking lots or movie theaters.

2. Where people feel no sense of ownership – such as public parks and city streets.

3. Where there is already an accumulation of litter.

Farrell explained the difficulties in combating the littering of cigarette butts because of the active nightlife that takes place on the streets on downtown on a regular basis.  “Because there’s no smoking inside of the bars, everyone is outside and therefore there are butts all along the ground and in the storm drains,” said Farrell.  “People need a place to put them.”

Farrell points out a fact that many people seem to forget: Littering is a crime.  “When you put a piece of trash on the ground, you are breaking the law.”  In the state of Georgia, you can be fined up to $1,000 for littering just one single item out of your car window.

Keep Athens-Clarke County Beautiful encourages motorists to report littering on the road by calling a litter hotline with the culprit’s tag number and description as well as the time, date and location of the occurrence.  The response from this hotline has been a positive one with several call-ins throughout the week.

Keep Athens Clarke-County Beautiful is combatting the littering problem that consumes the Athens area by creating the Cigarette Fairy public awareness campaign.  This campaign poses a cigarette fairy who begs the question, “Who DO you think is picking up the cigarette butts?”

The idea is for the campaign to ask smokers to take personal responsibility and to put waste in its place, according to the KACCB Web site.  The Cigarette Fairy Litter Prevention Campaign received a First Place Award at the Keep Georgia Beautiful Awards Luncheon in October, according to the Waste Department Web site.

In addition to the awareness campaign, a series of 40 Cigarette Litter Receptacles (CLRs) have been installed on parking meters throughout parts of downtown Athens, according to the Solid Waste Department Web site.  These receptacles are intended to provide smokers with  place to dispose of their trash in a place other than the ground.

The CLR initiative is a partnership project with several government agencies in the Athens-Clarke area.  Since the smoking ban in 2005, the group has been brainstorming ways to reduce the cigarette butt litter downtown.

In addition to targeting the littering of cigarette butts, Keep Athens-Clarke County Beautiful is also running a “Seriously…y’all still litter?” advertising campaign that incorporates a sarcastic tone through a lighthearted message.  This campaign is an effort to encourage people to question their own behaviors and break the littering cycle.

The “Seriously…y’all still litter campaign” won a first place Litter Prevention Awarded which was presented to the Keep Athens-Clarke County Beautiful division of the Solid Waste Department.  The campaign was also chosen as the 2009 Outstanding Public Education Program by the Solid Waste Association of North America’s Georgia Chapter.

Farrell said she appreciates that the citizens of Athens tend to be conscious of the environment and good about trash cans and using cigarette receptacles.  “I think we’re all on the same page as far as maintaining the integrity of the historic environment,” said Farrell.

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