STORMWATER STRAIGHT TALK: Cigarettes are litter too

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  • Robins Public Affairs

Littering is the improper disposal of waste, which includes used cigarette butts. According to “Litter in America,” a study performed by Keep America Beautiful, approximately 38% of all U.S. roadway litter is tobacco products. Cigarette butts are made of cellulose acetate, which is a plastic that can persist in the environment. While cigarettes butts are somewhat biodegradable, it is estimated that they take up to 10 to 15 years to break down.

Similar to other kinds of litter, cigarette butts can look unappealing in our streams, lakes, ponds and ditches and result in odors. Littered butts can also leach metals, such as cadmium, lead, arsenic and zinc, into both water and soil as they decompose resulting in water and soil pollution, as well as harm to wildlife habitats. Toxins in cigarette butts can leach into rainwater that then flows into a water body. Animals also think that the cigarette butts are food and will eat them. Cigarette butts have been found in the stomachs of birds and aquatic animals.

Cigarette butts are also costly to clean up. Because they are small and light, cigarette butts easily move from place to place, accumulating in corners, gutters and sidewalks. As cigarette butt litter builds up in these places, additional sidewalk and street sweeping, park maintenance and stormwater upkeep is required. Businesses, property owners and government agencies have to bear these clean-up expenses to keep their properties free of cigarette butt litter. Cigarette butts can also start wildfires and structure fires if still partially lit when disposed, which can then destroy local wildlife and cause costly damage to communities. 

The Robins Storm Water Management Plan states that the base shall perform, “proper waste management practices (that) protect storm water quality by minimizing or eliminating improper disposal practices.” 

To avoid littering with cigarette butts, be sure to:
- Dispose of used cigarette butts in the appropriate ash receptacles with closed lids
- Maintain a portable or pocket ash receptacle when smoking outside
- Do not throw cigarette butts out of vehicle windows
- Be aware of local litter ordinances, which can include cigarette butts and carry penalties

By keeping up with these simple acts, you can help keep Robins clean and safe.

For more information, call 478-222-2526.

Editor's note: Stormwater Straight Talk is a quarterly column intended to educate and inform base personnel and families about stormwater management.