No butts about it cigarettes are litter

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April 22, 2011
By: Sarah harris
Sarah harris
Have you ever wondered why well-meaning people who would never dream of littering think it is OK to flick cigarette butts on the ground?  

“It’s not the same thing,” they’ll say when asked. Some people have even told me they simply assumed that the butts get swept into the storm drain and will dissolve in the river. Wrong. Butts are not biodegradable and contain countless chemicals that damage the river’s ecosystem. Fish and animals try to eat them, often choking to death in the process. Cigarette butts take years to decompose. Don’t even get me started on how terrible they look lying around.

DID is in process of spring clean up Downtown — addressing the mess left after the snow banks melt. Like last year, we are seeing massive amounts of cigarette butts exposed in the process.  

Don’t get me wrong, DID Ambassadors love to clean up and make Downtown shine. But I can’t help but wonder why we need to spend so much time on something that is 100 percent preventable, when the many hours of service could instead be focused on spring clean up issues resulting from wear and tear and winter dirt. It’s not as simple as saying that the same sweeping pass can clean up the butts along with the dirt. It is very difficult to pick the butts up when they are wedged into cracks and tree grates. They simply require more effort than other forms of trash and dirt.   

I’ve often wondered how far the butts that get littered about would reach if we strung them together end to end. If they went around the world and ended up back in the same spot, would that be enough to get us to admit we have a problem?   

If they reached from here to the moon. What then? How about if they just make us think less of our city when it feels dirty?  

In celebration of Earth Day, DID ambassadors displayed a container of cigarette butts collected from the Nicollet Mall in just two days. We hope you saw it, and were as shocked as we by the number: 8,931 cigarette butts!

This issue has been an irritant for too long. Last spring, The Journal published a column by Tom Hoch, president and CEO of the Hennepin Theatre Trust on this very topic. Tom advocates for ways, both big and small, to make Downtown better and cigarette butt litter has been a crusade of his for more than 15 years. Tom now serves as the board chair for DID.  

Wouldn’t it be great if we could effectively wipe-out the butts during his term?  

To help put an end to the countless butts littering our sidewalks, DID has launched the “No Butts About It — This Is Litter” campaign in hopes of making people think before they flick. If you have an area near your building that is particularly problematic and could use a thought provoking poster, or if you have electronic media capabilities, go to the resources tab at and select the collateral materials link to see the options available to help you (and us) get the message out to people who think they aren’t really littering.  

Let’s all do our part. There are no butts about it — this is litter (and your DID resources could serve a much better purpose).

Sarah Harris is the Chief Operating Officer of the Minneapolis Downtown Improvement District, a non-profit organization dedicated to making downtown a clean, safe, green, and vibrant place to be. Follow the (DID) on Twitter @MinneapolisDID.