By Kelley Ann Hughes
I found myself wandering around College of Canyons’ vacant Valencia Campus on a perfect Sunday morning. I couldn’t seem to numb myself from what I’d repetitively seen on campus for the past two semesters. My mission greeted me with balmy air, mellow skies, and melodic birds fluttering nearby. As I headed down a dim stairway in Boykin Hall, a reassuring sunlit filled opening presented me with the treasure trove I needed to contain. A treasure trove I could no longer ignore – an eyesore of endless tossed out cigarette butts.
It is evident that surveillance is lacking to instill that College of the Canyons is a smoke-free campus. While “smoke-free” signs hang upon every building, parking lot, and sidewalk – stressed out students continue to get that much needed drag in before class. With only half a campus covered in three hours, my mission resulted in the cleanup of 2,000 dirty and carcinogenic cigarette butts.
You must be thinking by now: who cares about a couple of tossed out cigarettes? I don’t smoke so it’s not as if it’s my problem.
Over 4.5 trillion cigarette butts are littered worldwide every year. Since the 1980’s government and businesses have banned smoking in many public places. With the inability to smoke inside more and more cigarettes are put out on sidewalks, trails, and beaches. Uncontained cigarette butts end up washing or blowing into storm drains, rivers, and eventually our oceans. According to lung.org, cigarettes contain over 600 ingredients. Once ignited, these little toxic rolls create a residue of 7,000 chemicals. Some of these include arsenic, acetone, lead, and ammonia. Along with health risks, is the cigarette’s inability to decompose. These tossed remnants are made of cellulose acetate, a form of plastic, which takes up to 25 years to degrade.
When those 4.5 trillion tossed out cigarettes make their way down our storm drains and into the ocean they contaminate our waters and marine life. Fish and marine animals that consume cigarette butts are exposed to all the harmful residual toxins. As these butts and other plastic litter continue to collect and swell in the animal’s stomach, false satiety occurs – causing the animal to refrain from eating and eventually starve to death. This vicious cycle continues for the next 25 years after the oceanic dweller is either eaten by a larger predator or decomposes. This waste not only affects our aquatic life, but our sea birds and land animals.
In a study performed by Eli Slaughter of San Diego State University, a single cigarette butt was introduced to a fish filled liter of water. This resulted in high toxicity levels and the death of 50% of the fish. This is just the result of one cigarette butt. That means you get to consume all that arsenic, acetone, ammonia, lead, and all the other 6,996 chemicals every time you eat an affected fish. Even if you don’t smoke, it is imperative that you choose seafood without a side of arsenic.
Monitoring will not solve the problem as most of us college students are young and rebellious. In fact, I’m positive that telling youth they shouldn’t do something always results in the opposite.
The ideal solution would be to implement cigarette butt receptacles, or trash cans. Some could argue that this is an unnecessary cost. Cigarette butt receptacles are quite inexpensive. Along with that, there’s a wonderful organization, Terracycle, that turns your treasure trove of discarded cigarette butts into industrial plastics such as pallets. For every pound collected, Terracycle donates a dollar to your school or charity of choice. So instead of letting those nasty cigarettes contribute to a dirty campus, College of the Canyons could be earning money off of them.
The real cost is our neglected litter. Cigarettes create unappealing environments. Have you ever been lying on the beach taking in glorious rays of sun, and suddenly notice a pile of dirty cigarettes at your feet? This waste ruins many moments as well as innocent lives. Fires caused by tossed out cigarettes claim the lives of about 1,000 people a year and injure up to 3,000. A majority of the cigarette butts I’ve collected on campus have been tossed onto dry vegetation.
It is understandable that smoke-free places are not keen on changing their standards, especially if it is contributing towards the deterioration of humanity’s health. I am not an advocate for smoking. I am an advocate for doing what is right. I cannot ignore that a school as accomplished as College of the Canyons is insidiously contributing to the 4.5 trillion pieces of annual cigarette litter.
Plastic pollution is responsible for the death of over 1 million seabirds and 100,000 marine animals per year (including large amounts of seals, sea turtles, and whales). While a miniscule piece of waste seems like no big threat, we as a blind society are detrimentally impacting our marine life. Garbage patches the size of Texas are swirling through the currents of our gyres while oceanic life is immorally forced to adapt to it.
“Nothing we use for a few minutes should pollute our environment for decades.” – Surfers Against Sewage