On Saturday Becca and I went out for a Trash Run after some morning yoga. We decided to tackle the Back Cove Trail in Portland, ME . As with any Trash Run, there were discoveries of remarkable trash and new trash running terminology (see end of post for new terms). On this day, there was a definite theme for the bigger items we found – personal hygiene items made of plastic. Some of the more interesting items in this category included:
- 4 tampon applicators
- 2 combs
- 1 set of green tweezers
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 stick of lip balm
- A partially used stick of deodorant
You may be asking yourself, “Why is someone throwing tampon applicators along a jog/ walk trail?” The answer is, people are probably not dumping their personal hygiene products. Much of the trash we picked up probably comes from the streets of Portland and gets deposited into the cove from a storm drain. If someone does not pick it up, it will make its way into the Atlantic, catch a ride on some ocean currents, and probably end up with its other trash friends at the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
We had hoped to cover the entire 3.5-mile loop around the cove but barely got out of the parking lot. There is one simple reason for this-CIGARETTE BUTTS! We spent over an hour and a half picking up hundreds of the nasty little butts (and forced ourselves to walk by a bunch so we could actually get away from the parking lot). In that time we covered less than a quarter of a mile. Our trash run quickly turned into a “butt stroll”.
While it is difficult to estimate the number of cigarette butts that are littered each year, they are commonly considered the most littered item in the world.
- Different clean up groups estimate that cigarette butts make up anywhere from 35% to nearly 60% of the total waste collected.
- The Texas Department of Transportation estimates over 130 million butts are tossed on their roadsides each year. That doesn’t include property that other Texans maintain (city sidewalks, grassy areas, etc.)
- Over 360 billion cigarettes are smoked each year in the US, resulting in 135 million pounds of butt waste per year. The annual worldwide figures are 5.6 trillion cigarettes smoked and 2.1 billion pounds of waste.
Not only are these butts a big contributor to landfills and an eyesore for our parks, roadways, and sidewalks, they are a hazard to nature. While most people may think that cigarette filters are made from cotton and thus biodegradable, that assumption could not be further from the truth. 95% of cigarette filters are made from cellulose acetate, a plastic that is slow to degrade (estimates from 1.5 – 10 years). During this time, the butts have a good chance of ending up in our waterways (18% of all litter does), which endangers marine life that mistakes the debris for food.
A depressing problem, right? Well that’s if you look at it as a problem. What if you look at this as an opportunity? Here is the thing, cellulose acetate has many other uses including:
- Apparel: linings, blouses, dresses, wedding and party attire, home furnishings, draperies, upholstery and slip covers. (Really show people what a die-hard smoker you are!)
- Industrial uses: filters (other than cigarettes), ink reservoirs for fiber tip pens.
- High absorbency products: diapers and surgical products.
- Award ribbons: Rosettes for equestrian events, dog/cat shows, corporate awards, advertising and identification products.
What if we created the infrastructure to collect cigarette butts, purify them, and re-manufacture them into new materials? What if we provided an incentive for people to submit them (and not coupons for additional cigarettes)? What if part of the proceeds from the products sold from the new material went to support youth smoking prevention campaigns? It may be a crazy idea, but most people thought Columbus’s idea that the world was round was pretty crazy too.
New Trash Running Terminology
Baited – while trash running/hiking/strolling along a body of salt water, you bend down to pick up that piece of trash. But alas, it is a natural gift from the sea. Old net? Nope-dried seaweed. Bit of hard plastic? Nope-crustacean shell. (Good thing you opted out of the harder lunges in yoga. You’ll need those thigh muscles today!)
For some other trash running recaps from Atayne’s contest with I Run Far check out these blogs. If you did a write up on your blog, please post the link as a comment.