Litter from cigarette butts on campus is a recurring problem. Every year a clean-up effort is organized, and within a week the ground looks like it was deliberately mulched with cigarette butts. While everyone is supposed to know that they should not pollute, some smokers seem to have forgotten that cigarettes butts are non-biodegradable garbage. Last week, the Office of Health organized a clean-up event to remedy the problem. The campaign was sponsored by WTF, a clever acronym for We’re Tobacco Free that definitely got everyone’s attention. The Office of Health didn’t want to lecture smokers about the ill effects of their habit. The event was strictly about the environmental impact and unsightliness of cigarette butt litter.
Alongside both smokers and non-smokers, I donned rubber gloves to help pick up cigarette butts on Friday, Sept. 22. When we were done, we had an industrial trash bag half filled with filters with still more area to cover. Two hours later, I came out to the smoking section to indulge my habit, and picked up over 10 fresh, white filtered butts in a two by three foot area that was five feet away from an ashtray. Someone questioned what the big deal was with cigarette litter and stated that it didn’t matter if it was dumped here or in a landfill.
The reason you should dispose of litter properly is to prevent the thousands of toxic chemicals used to make cigarettes from winding up in our soil and water supply. Those chemicals include pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and rodenticides. All of these pass through the filter, which is made of cellulose acetate, a plastic product. While some parts of a cigarette filter degrade in optimal environmental conditions, 95 percent of filter material remains and winds up leaching into our water and soil. Numerous research has concluded that these chemicals affect ecosystems in a negative way and are toxic to aquatic life. Cigarette butts are the most common form of litter and an estimated 4.5 trillion are thrown away every year.
All science aside, it’s also about being considerate and keeping our campus from looking like a sprawling ashtray. MSU does not have to allow a smoking area, and having a spot to indulge our filthy habit is a privilege that we could lose if we cannot correct the problem. Smokers are vilified enough, but do we need to be litterbugs too? We need to police ourselves and say something when we see others throw butts on the ground, or we may wind up losing the privilege to smoke close to class. Even though I plan on rejoining the world of non-smokers, the great conversations and camaraderie I share with fellow smokers could become endangered. While many smokers are diligent and dispose of their butts properly or smoke filterless, the smokers who litter are buttheads who need to be called out.
Contact the Office of Health Advancement at montana.edu/oha/ if you have constructive suggestions to help solve the problem.