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Toxic cigarettes top shoreline cleanup list, once again

In the summer of 2007, British anti-litter activists got together on a naturist beach in Briton to kick off their "No Butts on Beach" campaign. (Photo courtesy adoptabeach.org.uk)

Posted by Rob Klovance

Another shoreline cleanup. Another 325,598 cigarette butts.

Once again, discarded cigarettes topped the list of litter scooped up in the TD Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup. And even the seven small B.C. cleanups headed by Team Power Smart specialists managed to find 1,386 discarded butts – or about 26 butts per person for all involved.

I had never carefully considered why, other than being an eyesore, discarded butts are considered to be such a litter problem. Then I did a little digging and discovered that the key issues are that the filters can take up to a decade to decompose and that the cumulative effect is the leeching of a considerable amount of toxins into our water.

Here's what cigarettelitter.org, the website of a non-profit organization dedicated to ridding the U.S. of cigarette litter, has to say:

"What happens after that butt gets casually flicked onto the street, nature trail, or beach? Typically wind and rain carry the cigarette into the water supply, where the toxic chemicals the cigarette filter was designed to trap leak out into aquatic ecosystems, threatening the quality of the water and many aquatic lifeforms. Cigarette butts may seem small, but with several trillion butts littered every year, the toxic chemicals add up!"

2009 Cleanup, at a glance

Team Power Smart led eight B.C. cleanup efforts in September, combing the shorelines at the following locations:

  • Willows Beach, Victoria
  • Charlie Lake at Beaton Park, Burnaby
  • South Thompson River at Riverside Park, Kamloops
  • Strait of Georgia at Neck Point and Neck Point Park, Nanaimo
  • Belcarra Park, Burnaby
  • Squamish Estuary, Squamish
  • Camp Elphinstone, Gibsons
  • Cultus Lake Provincial Park

The top five most collected items at seven of these locations were: 1,380 cigarettes; 427 food wrappers; 357 beverage cans; 208 plastic bags and 136 caps and lids. Among the unusual items were a TV, a lawnmower and a coconut.

Nationwide, the TD Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup involved nearly 60,000 people in 1,568 organized cleanups. For details on British Columbians' involvement in this annual cleanup, check out www.vanaqua.org/cleanup.

Rob Klovance is managing editor of bchydro.com.