Time to clean up cigarette butts

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That first sunny warm Saturday in May, I had the pleasure of taking my young daughters to join our community for spring clean-up. We chipped in for the first time last spring and it felt so good we just had to participate again. How satisfying to clear out all that garbage that had blown in and accumulated over the winter. I applaud our community organization (HLCA) for their huge efforts in making our community a place where people can come together to act as stewards for our community and the environment we share.

Both years there was an awfully high ratio of cigarette wrappers and butts as well as junk food containers ranging from pop cups to candy bar wrappers. It seems the things that are trashing our bodies are also trashing our planet.

Five days after the clean-up, as I walked around the pond with my three-year-old, I found myself stooping over time and again to collect cigarette butts flicked carelessly along the trails, their filters primed to release their harmful chemicals in the next rainfall or upon blowing into the pond. Research indicates that the toxic chemicals leached from discarded cigarette butts present a biohazard to the water flea (water fleas occupy a critical position in the food chain as they transfer energy and organic matter from primary producers (algae) to higher consumers (fish). The leachate from the remnant tobacco portion of a cigarette butt is deadlier at smaller concentrations than are the chemicals that leach out of the filter portion of a butt. (Kathleen Register, Underwater Naturalist, Bulletin of the American Littoral Society). People may think the filter is full of cotton, but it is actually fine plastic fibres that are not biodegradable. Cigarettes are the number one source of litter in the world, with an estimated several trillion littered annually (a concentration of one butt per seven litres is already at a level considered biohazard for water fleas or Daphnia).

I wonder if it is a simple matter of public education. Manufacturers could place anti-litter messages and on their packaging; even provide a compartment to store used butts. I don’t think it is just me and the water flea that would be relieved if these butts were disposed of properly!

Jill Cunningham, St. Albert

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St. Albert Gazette

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