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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Billions of Butts

Air Date: Week of

Commentator David Catlin gripes about the cigarette butt — that small, round, ever-present bit of litter that adds up to a lot of environmental waste.


CURWOOD: As the year begins, commentator and naturalist David Catlin has been thinking about that most perishable of commodities, the New Year's resolution.

CATLIN: It's January again. That time of year when we sit down and think up New Year's resolutions for all the other people in our lives. This year I asked a smoker I know to make one. Not the grand challenge of resolutions, quitting smoking. No, just a little, easy one, please, I said. Stop throwing your cigarette butts out on the ground. Flicking a single cigarette butt isn't much, really. It's not even like pitching a soda can out the car window, something a lot of butt-flicking smokers I know would never consider doing. But they add up, all those butts. USA Today reported in August that when Center for Marine Conservation volunteers around the world cleaned up beach trash last summer, the commonest item they found was cigarette butts. They picked up 775,438 of them.

It doesn't surprise me. We don't have many beaches here in the Ozarks, but the street gutters at every intersection with a traffic light pile up with windrows of butts between rains. Then where do they go? Into local rivers and streams. Filter tips take, I've read, 10 to 12 years to decompose. Millions of them are piling up out there. So pitching a cigarette butt is really an incremental erosion of our environmental quality.

I pointed all this out to my friend the smoker. He was pretty touchy and defensive. He noted that my kitchen hot water faucet had been dripping for weeks, wasting water and energy, and that isn't this the same kind of incremental erosion of our environmental quality? "Well, yes it is," I mumbled sheepishly. He proposed a resolution for me: that I triumph over my laziness and fix the leak immediately. Changing bad habits that deteriorate the resources of the world we live in, he said, is everyone's responsibility, not just smokers'.

So we agreed. I'm going to accept his resolution and fix the leak, and he's going to adopt mine and stop throwing cigarette butts on the ground. We also agreed to a third one. Next year, we're both going to make our own resolutions.

CURWOOD: Commentator David Catlin comes to us from member station KSMU in Springfield, Missouri.



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