Keeping world’s number one discarded item from penetrating area waterways
(April 5, 2019) Keeping one of the planet’s most discarded pieces of litter, cigarette butts, from polluting ocean waters and the beach is the goal of a campaign being promoted to area restaurants by Ocean City and the Maryland Coastal Bays Program.
Sandi Smith, development and marketing coordinator for the Maryland Coastal Bays Program, said the Ocean City chapter of the Surfrider Foundation is helping to enlist food and drink establishments to place free “butt huts” at transition points where smokers commonly discard tobacco items.
“Part of the pledge is the cigarette butts are going to be recycled,” she said. “The number one piece of litter in the world is cigarette butts. It’s a worldwide issue.”
Smith said the Ocean City Surf Club, the Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association and the Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce have joined in the undertaking.
Smith said after receiving a $2,000 grant last November from the Worcester County Health Department to finance installation of cigarette butt receptacles at the ramps to the Boardwalk for this summer, the program was expanded when the nonprofit Keep America Beautiful offered additional support. The group works with the Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company and Phillip Morris USA on a Cigarette Litter Prevention Program.
“They liked the fact that we have all the environmental organizations and the municipality working together on the TerraCycle recycling effort,” she said.
TerraCycle, a recycling business in Trenton, New Jersey launched a program in 2012 to recycle cigarette filters, which are produced from cellulose acetate, for use in making plastic shipping pallets and as fiber product to make planks for benches.
Smith said Public Works Director Hal Adkins reported his department has already constructed the first round of butt huts, and plans to collect and save the contents this summer to be packaged and mailed to TerraCycle for recycling.
Smith said Keep America Beautiful, a nonprofit formed in 1953 by corporate and civic members to unite public and private efforts to foster national cleanliness, has agreed to provide an initial allotment of 50 butt huts at no charge with more available if requested.
“The reason Keep American Beautiful is providing them to us at no cost is because for every pound of cigarette butts sent back, TerraCycle gives $1 per pound to Keep American Beautiful,” she said. “It’s kind of like a full circle thing.”
Smith said with previous fiscal constraints removed, the challenge now becomes how to manage the recycling effort.
Adkins said data collected by Maintenance Manager Tom Dy last summer showed that the city collected roughly 325,000 cigarette butts, or enough to fill more than half-a-dozen 30-gallon trash cans. That’s more than 7.5 miles of cigarette butts, or three-quarters of so of the resort’s total length, assuming that the average butt is in the neighborhood of 1.5 inches long.
Public Works will install cigarette butt receptacles along ocean block street ends included in the Boardwalk access control project, which is anticipated for completion by Memorial Day Weekend, Adkins said.
“Our end of it is going to go pretty fast,” he said. “It’s not that big of a deal to stick the sign in the ground and mount the container.”
Smith said establishments that join the effort can recycle cigarette butts by contacting TerraCycle, which provides paid shipping. Additionally, volunteers can pick up collected butts and deliver them to Public Works.
“We’re looking for grant money to provide yard signs so that when you pull into the restaurant, you’ve got a sign that says, ‘park your butts next to the door, they’re getting recycled,’” she said.
In addition to backing from Keep America Beautiful, Smith anticipates grants may be available to purchase one or more benches made from recycled cigarette butts.
“We’re planning on having a lot of fun with it … ‘put your butt on butts,’” she said. “Wherever we put these benches, we’re definitely going to have signage.”
Noting that Worcester is the sole Maryland county with an ocean coastline, Smith stressed the importance of reconditioning smokers to think twice and recycle in lieu of polluting.
“A lot of people are still flicking them out their window,” she said. “All those butts that we see all over the ground, eventually they’re hitting our waterways and adding more toxins.