Photo: Banglens/Shutterstock

Destroying Our World One Butt at a Time

Sustainability Couples Activism
by Marie-Louise Monnier Jun 3, 2015

I’m sitting on a step, a few metres away from The Drop, looking at the water and the mountains beyond it, while my partner is frantically snapping pictures of the many float planes landing and taking off in front of us. We spent most of our day walking, people and bird-watching, and scanning the harbour for seals.

“There’s no city quite like Vancouver”, I think.

The weather is way too hot for the last weekend of May and everyone is outside enjoying the view and the breeze coming from the ocean.

I’m a small town person, but if I had to live in a city, Vancouver would be it. Despite the 6 months of rain per year one must endure, it’s as good a city as it gets: it’s artsy, it’s community-oriented, it’s bike and environmentally-friendly, and the ocean and the mountains are right there for you to explore. Right there for you to stare at for hours on end.

I realize that this is why people come here. This is why the area around the Convention Centre is packed with visitors like us: the city is gorgeous.

So, when one member of the group of middle-aged British people I’ve been looking at and listening to for the past 10 minutes drops his cigarette butt in the water below, I’m floored. I’m so angry that I have to walk away before I throw the idiot head first into the ocean.

Cigarette butts are the most littered item on the planet and, according to the Surfrider Foundation’s Hold on to Your Butt campaign, 4.95 trillion cigarette butts are tossed onto the ground or water every year. 4.95 trillion.

Cigarette litter is simply an environmental nightmare. Cigarette filters leach toxins when wet (including nicotine, benzene, and cadmium) and are mostly made of cellulose acetate, a form of plastic which takes decades to degrade. Cigarette butts are also often mistaken for food by aquatic life, poisoning them when ingested. Needless to mention that tossing cigarette butts is also the number one cause of fires that destroy wildlife habitat.

Yet, as noticed by the David Suzuki Foundation, “it’s astounding how many people who would likely not otherwise drop garbage on the ground see nothing wrong with flicking butts without regard for where they land.” This poor behaviour has been studied closely several and motivations have been found to explain it.

Some smokers find crushing their cigarettes under their heels as stress-relieving as smoking them, others don’t want to create a fire by throwing them into a garbage can, some blame the lack of ashtrays available, others still think that filters are biodegradable, I personally blame people’s carelessness and their lack of brains.

All over the world campaigns have been put together to prevent cigarette litter. In San Diego, as well as in my hometown of La Baule, in France, among other locations, pocket ashtrays have been given to smokers to prevent them from discarding their butts in the ground or in the water. Despite the scene I described above, Vancouver has butt recycle posts everywhere you care to look.

So, what will it take for people to stop ruining our planet with their filthy habit?

I don’t have the guts to give that British man a lecture. I wave to Jesse that I’m heading towards Coal Harbour. I’m so pissed off and discouraged that I think I might just cry.

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