Watch your butts

Darren D’Altorio

The city of Kent uses its time and resources, both financially and physically, to make downtown a beautiful place. After all, Kent is a “tree city.”

What would a tree city be without scenic parks, riverside walkways and downtown sidewalks lined with trees and flower beds blasting color, aroma and natural life into the eyes, ears and nostrils of passers-by.

Unfortunately, these flower beds and trees have become ashtrays for the hoards of smokers who spew from bars and line the sidewalks every evening. Cigarette fumes are choking the smell of flowers, and discarded butts are masking the dirt’s dark, healthy color with dingy, white filters.

The same problem exists on Kent State’s campus outside every building. And worldwide, streets, sidewalks and beaches bear the same dilemma.

Reuters Health reported that worldwide, smokers toss at least 4.5 trillion butts carelessly to the ground annually, causing significant environmental harm.

For the past eight years, The Ocean Conservancy has reported that cigarette butts are a leading item found during the International Coastal Cleanup Project.

When butts are discarded, rainwater sweeps them into storm drains, and they are carried into bodies of water. When the water interacts with the butts, chemicals are quickly leached from them, according to the article, “Cigarette Butts as Litter – Toxic as Well as Ugly,” published in the Aug. 2000 issue of Underwater Naturalist. The leached chemicals pose an immediate biohazard to marine life.

Is it lack of respect for the environment? Are there not enough butt receptacles in public places? Are smokers not educated in proper disposal of their habit’s byproduct?

Whatever the cause, cigarette companies should do their part to combat the environmental impact by designing biodegradable filters.

People may think the squishy, cotton-like substance in filters is biodegradable, but the filters are made from a plastic compound called cellulose acetate, a slow degrading, man-made compound.

The extensive tossing of butts combined with their non-degradable nature causes an accumulation of waste worldwide. In Australia, cigarette butts account for 50 percent of all litter. Worldwide, the total measure of butt waste is over 2.1 trillion pounds.

The rise in popularity of indoor smoking bans has contributed to this abundance of cigarette waste. Instead of people putting cigarette butts into ashtrays on bars and tabletops, they simply throw them onto the ground after sucking in the last breaths of sweet tar and nicotine.

Granted, the indoor smoking bans preserve human life by reducing bystanders’ exposure to second-hand smoke, but now the environment is feeling the brunt of the change in policy.

Much like soda manufactures did to educate consumers of the dangers and environmental risks that littering aluminum cans, plastic and glass bottles and six-pack, plastic can rings pose, cigarette companies should put a portion of their multibillion dollar profits toward awareness and educational efforts.

The environment is a hot issue right now in the American sociopolitical forum. Movement toward alternative fuel sources and decreased oil consumption are at the forefront of political debate. This may be because auto manufacturing and oil are such dominant commercial industries in America.

But so is tobacco. Hell, tobacco is one of the only industries America still can call truly domestic. Cars have been gone, and “the American lager” just made the trip to overseas ownership. Pushing tobacco companies to take responsibility in educating their consumers to the risks and dangers of littering butts is a plausible request.

People go on leisurely hikes through the woods and vacations to the beach to escape the filth and pollution of a big city. And upon arrival, they are greeted with some of the same urban litter.

It’s disturbing to see the fiery remains of a cigarette flailing from a cracked car window into the night, only to burst into ash on the pavement. And it’s saddening to see the beauties of the natural world overrun by careless human disposal.

Darren D’Altorio is a senior magazine journalism major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].