Smokers burn through 6 trillion cigarettes every year, and most are tossed into the environment. Butts contain microplastics and harmful chemicals, and new research suggests they may be directly toxic to wildlife. Efforts to curb butt litter have been largely futile.
For the environmental advocacy group Surfrider, a plan to curb the littering of cigarette butts began with energetic optimism. It was 1992, and at the time, cigarette filters were the single most frequently occurring item found in most beach cleanups – a statistic the organization hoped to erase.
However, the Hold On To Your Butt campaign has dragged on and on. Even as the 23rd annual California Coast Cleanup Day on September 15, 2018, calculates its successes – in terms of tons of trash removed from the state’s shores – on the butt end it continues as a humbling exercise in futility.
“Cigarette butts are still the number one item that we find,” says Shelly Ericksen, the director of the San Francisco chapter of Surfrider’s campaign.