Time to tackle cigarette butt litter problem

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March 1, 2010
By: Tom Hoch
Tom Hoch

I’m an optimist in thinking spring isn’t too far away — the angle of the sun has changed, the days have grown longer and temperatures are mostly on the rise. For retailers, prices on winter clothing have been slashed and the spring line of clothing is edging onto store racks. I can’t wait to store all things down-filled!

As the snow recedes, I’m also anxious to rediscover our sidewalks and boulevards, savor the green grass and shimmering water, explore hiking trails, helm sailboats and relax on café terraces and at outdoor events. Our incredibly beautiful environment is integral to our quality of life and is, without a doubt, one of Minneapolis’ most impressive features, feeding our national reputation as a great place to live, work and visit.

So why don’t we treat our surroundings as a treasure? Why do we continue to litter and spoil our city? More important, what can we do to turn this around?

For starters, let’s examine just one area where we could easily do a much better job of litter control — the disposal of cigarette butts.

Here are a few facts:

— Keep America Beautiful estimates that 4.5 trillion cigarette butts are littered each year; cigarettes are the most littered item in America. There are so many butts that placed end-to-end, they could extend from the earth to the moon almost 300 times.

— Cigarette filters are not biodegradable. They are made of synthetic polymer cellulose acetate and have been estimated to take as long 25 years to degrade. Eighty percent of these butts find their way into our water systems … our lakes, streams and rivers.

— These butts contain toxic chemicals:  cadmium, arsenic and lead which contaminate our soils and waters and disable and kill living creatures including birds, fish and other animals who may ingest them.

— Not only do cigarette butts degrade the environment from an aesthetic viewpoint, but their removal creates needless expense for property owners and municipalities, draining away revenues that could certainly be better used.

We have a cigarette butt problem in Minneapolis. The first picture shown here was taken late in January along one of our major Downtown thoroughfare — although it could have been any major street in town. Awful, isn’t it? Hundreds of soggy cigarette butts litter our sidewalk, just waiting to find their way into our waterways or onto beaches and parklands. Is this the Minneapolis you want?

The second picture is same location after workers from the Downtown Improvement District took care of this mess. Unfortunately, the same situation is repeating itself all over Downtown Minneapolis and the clean-up process is costing property owners plenty. Dollars that could be spent planting flowers are being siphoned off to deal with cigarette butt litter.

We get the kind of city we deserve and I think we deserve one that reflects the quality and pride for which Minneapolis is known. If we want a city that attracts people, jobs and dollars, we need to stop littering. If you smoke, that’s your decision, but our city needs you to properly place your cigarette butts in an appropriate receptacle or to carry something with you to dispose of them.

Most people who litter their cigarettes may not fully understand the consequences of their actions. We hope that once the facts are out, people will be much more hesitant to unthinkingly flick their cigarette butts on the ground.

Tom Hoch is President and CEO of Hennepin Theatre Trust, owner of the historic State, Orpheum and Pantages Theatres, a non-profit organization devoted to enriching the vibrant cultural atmosphere of the Twin Cities. Please visit www.HennepinTheatreTrust.org for more information.