The North American Marine Environment Protection Association (NAMEPA) has released three Public Service Announcements (PSAs) as part of its educational campaign – “Keep Your Butts OFF the Beach and Keep Your Butts in Your Car”. The PSAs include 30 and 60 second video ads in addition to a flyer highlighting ways to reduce the impact of cigarette butts, the number one marine debris item globally. Created in collaboration with NAMEPA’s UNCW (University of North Carolina Wilmington) student chapter and TVWorldwide, the PSAs encourage individuals to reduce their environmental impact and make sustainable choices by properly disposing of cigarette butts and raising awareness about the risks of improper disposal. The flyer and three versions of the PSAs are available for download for free: Keep Your Butts OFF the Beach (60 sec), Keep Your Butts OFF the Beach (30 sec), and Keep Your Butts IN Your Car (30 sec).
“For the past 10 years, NAMEPA has partnered with Ocean Conservancy on their International Coastal Cleanup held in September,” stated Carleen Lyden Walker, NAMEPA Co-Founder and Executive Director. “The number one debris item is the cigarette butt. Whether left on the sand or thrown out a vehicle’s window to wash down storm drains into our waterways, they pose a risk to marine life and water quality. We hope with this campaign that people who smoke will take responsibility for their butts and dispose of them properly!”
Plastics and their impact on the environment has become the “issue of the decade” according to a recent Wall Street Journal article, and cigarette filters are the world’s most littered plastic item with trillions of cigarette butts thrown into the environment every year. The National Geographic also recently reported on the issue, stating that filters can take years to degrade and, even as they do, they break down into tiny pieces of plastic, called microplastics, which are an increasing hazard in waterways and oceans. According to Tom Novotny, an epidemiologist at San Diego State University and one of the first people to research environmental impacts of cigarettes tested in the lab, “One cigarette butt in a liter [of water], kills half the fish.”
Another area of risk and harm are cigarette butts thrown out of car or truck windows. Not only do they get washed down drains leading to rivers and seas, but if thrown into dry brush they could cause a fire.
While NAMEPA values proper disposal of all waste items, they are putting a special emphasis on cigarette butts during the summer and warmer months to influence behavior and reduce the impact of littering. Through its newest campaign, people are asked to “Keep Your Butts OFF the Beach” and “Keep Your Butts IN Your Car” and make sure to throw cigarette filters into an ashtray rather than in the sand or out the window.
Lisa Piastuch, NAMEPA’s Education and Outreach Manager, said, “NAMEPA’s campaign to raise awareness of the immense problem of cigarette butts is of extreme importance for the health of our marine environment. Approximately 4.5 trillion cigarette butts are littered annually by people mistakenly believing cigarette butts are biodegradable. In fact, most butts are composed of a type of plastic called cellulose acetate that breaks down into smaller pieces. These tiny pieces of plastic or microplastics have been found throughout the world’s ocean contributing to the declining health of the ocean. Marine life are becoming sick from ingesting these toxic materials they mistake for food that eventually makes its way into our bodies when we consume seafood. Changing one habit – keeping your (cigarette) butts off the beach and in your car – can change the world.”
The Wall Street Journal reported that the European Union in May adopted new rules under which members must pass laws within two years requiring tobacco companies to fund the cleanup of filter litter as part of a broader crackdown on single-use plastics. In the United States, a bill proposing banning filters has made its way through the California Senate and will be heard by the lower house next year.
To download the PSAs, flyer, or other educational resources developed by NAMEPA, please visit NAMEPA's education page.