Is my title confusing enough? This post is dedicated to a fantasy, a day dream that I have often. The following narrative has not happened, yet.
I am in my car at a red light. The baby is playing contentedly with his toys, no peeps to be heard. I have my radio tuned to Alt nation on Sirius to relive the days of my youth. The car next to me happens to be a gas guzzling Hummer that is chromed out, and a man is smoking a cigarette and blowing smoke out of his open window. Next thing I see is the man flicking his cigarette butt out of his window. I watch helplessly as the butt hits the asphalt.
This time, I am going to do something about it. I put my car in neutral and yank the parking brake. I make sure to leave the door open so I don’t lock my baby in the car. Hoping the light doesn’t change yet I run over to the still smoking butt and pick it up. Nasty stub in hand I go to the Hummer with the open window. “Did you drop something?” I ask him in as brave a voice as I can muster. Then, I hand the man, who looks too shocked to respond, the smoking butt. Leaving him with his mouth agape, I strut back to my car just in time to hop in before the light turns green. This was my fantasy. Oh how I wish that I could do this. I can’t tell you how many times I have sat at a red light only to see some jerk tossing his finished cigarette on the ground. I fume in my car, imagining myself confronting them. I visualize the satisfaction of putting them in their place while cleaning up the litter that they just threw on the ground. I have even thought of keeping a discarded butt in my car in case I didn’t have time to pick one up. I could simply take one and meet them at the next light and ask, “Did you forget something?” Ahhh how I wish I could do this. The fact is, I don’t have the balls. And, I can’t leave my baby in the car just to put someone in their place. I don’t get to drive alone often, so that isn’t an option. I did find a petition to sign which is asking cigarette manufacturers to add “Please dispose of butts properly” on the back of packages. Do I think this will end all roadside litter? No! But I think anything to help remind smokers that their butts belong in the trash is better than nothing. Even better, I have found that in South Africa there is a hot line dedicated to reporting smokers who discard their butts from their car. Witnesses can take down the license plate number and report them to the hotline. They can be fined if reported numerous times. I looked desperately for a US or NY State equivalent but I found nothing. If there is anyone who has knowledge of how to rally for a similar program please let me know!
Here are a few facts about butts:
- It is estimated that several trillion cigarette butts are littered worldwide every year. That’s billions of cigarettes flicked, one at a time, on our sidewalks, beaches, nature trails, gardens, and other public places every single day. In fact, cigarettes are the most littered item in America and the world. Cigarette filters are made of cellulose acetate tow, NOT COTTON, and they can take decades to degrade. Not only does cigarette litter ruin even the most picturesque setting, but the toxic residue in cigarette filters is damaging to the environment, and littered butts cause numerous fires every year, some of them fatal.
- According to the American Burn Association, about 900 people in the United States die each year in fires started by cigarettes, and about 2,500 are injured. About 100 of the fire deaths each year are children and nonsmokers. Nationally, annual human and property costs of fires caused by careless smoking total about $6 billion. In 1997, there were more than 130,000 cigarette related fires.
- Most cigarette filters are composed of cellulose acetate, a form of plastic. The white fibers you see in a cigarette filter are NOT cotton, but a plastic that can persist in the environment as long as other forms of plastic.
- It can take up to 28 years for a cigarette butt to break down.
- Cigarette butts have been found in the stomachs of fish, whales, birds and other marine animals which leads to ingestion of hazardous chemicals and digestive blockages.
- Almost 1 in 3 cigarette butts ends up as litter.
***Facts taken from: