Enquirer Herald

Cigarette disposal is butt of new York County anti-littering initiative

No butts about it – the amount of cigarette litter at local parks and after festivals and events have prompted Keep York County Beautiful to take action.

The organization’s main goals focus on encouraging residents to improve the environment through education, recycling, waste reduction and more. Recently, it received two grants from Palmetto Pride and Keep America Beautiful that will target cigarette butt litter and more.

York County clean community coordinator Alysen Woodruff said a lot of cigarette butts litter the ground after local fairs and festivals.

“There isn’t anywhere for people to put them out without risk of a fire,” she said.

With a $1,000 grant from Palmetto Pride, the organization will take part in a national program by offering 400 pocket ash trays and 200 vehicle ash trays to residents at local festivals, which Woodruff said is a “great way to reduce waste and prevent litter.”

The ashtrays enhance the organization’s Recycling-On-The-Go Program, in which it lends recycling receptacles to people who request them for events.

Woodruff said the number of people requesting the receptacles lately has increased.

“We hope this will complement things like that,” Woodruff said of the ashtrays.

A second grant, $2,000 from Keep America Beautiful, will focus on Ebenezer Park. In addition to the pocket and vehicle ashtrays, the organization will also distribute more recycling receptacles at the 25-acre facility.

“The population of the park is so high, we wanted to place the receptacles throughout the park,” she said.

Specific receptacles will be for fishing lines, which she said have also been a popular litter-reduction item.

Woodruff hopes for more elements to these two initiatives.

“We’re hoping to complement this with some anti-cigarette butt stenciling at some of the county intersections,” she said.

She also hopes the city can track the program, potentially through a global positioning map that will show areas where litter is more prominent, and where people have made a large effort to clean.

But most of all, Woodruff hopes that recycling and being more conscientious of litter will be “installed as a habit in people.”

Cigarette butts make up about 38 percent of roadside litter, she said. That statistic is based on numbers from Keep America Beautiful, which says about 65 percent of smokers litter cigarette butts.

“People think they’re biodegradable,” she explained. “But the filters have a lot of plastic fibers in them, so they don’t ever completely decompose.”

Sarah Lyles is the upstate leader for Keep South Carolina Beautiful and works with Palmetto Pride.

“People think the filters are made from cotton, and they dissolve in water,” Lyles said. “But 95 percent of them are cellophane acetate. ... It takes about five years for a cigarette butt to decompose.”

The effects of cigarette butt litter extend to water drains and animals, Lyles said.

“When people toss about cigarette butts,” she said, “it pollutes the environment, but sometimes, it can clog up storm drains. When rain comes, it gets caught in storm drains, so the storm drains don’t work properly.”

Also, Lyles said, birds pick up the cigarettes and use them in their nests. The eggs may not hatch because of the toxins in the cigarettes. Animals also can get sick because they eat the butts, thinking they’re food.

Elizabeth Morgan, the city of Rock Hill’s environmental educator, agreed that cigarette butts are a problem.

“People who would never throw trash on the ground throw cigarettes on the ground because they don’t think it’s litter,” she explained.

Rock Hill’s Clean and Green board has handed out ashtrays like the ones Keep York County Beautiful received at events such as Come-See-Me, she said. They’ve also counted cigarette butts at intersections, where they’ve noticed it’s particularly a problem.

Both she and Lyles think education and enforcement could help curb cigarette butt litter.

Rock Hill Police Lt. Brad Redfearn said if officers see someone toss out a cigarette butt – or any kind of litter – they are issued a ticket for $470. In 2011, officers issued 27 littering citations compared with 28 in 2010 and 34 in 2009.

“They really can do a lot of damage,” Morgan said. “We really want our community to look clean and healthy.”

For more information on obtaining recycling receptacles for your event or festival or recycling in general, visit Keep York County Beautiful online at its Facebook page or the page at www.yorkcountygov.com. You also can call 803-628-3181.