Monday, January 24, 2022

It’s Past Time to Start “Talking Trash!”

Ruminations From the Rock and Beyond

Photos by Jory Westberry


I’m doing a lot more walking now that we have a new rescue pup and am appalled at the number of cigarette butts along the sidewalks and roadsides and on the ground in parks and playgrounds. Not to mention our beaches! Do you really think that putting your tainted, crusty butt in the sand to dispose of it makes it go away? Hardly, another family with little children will unearth it and the mom or dad will scream, “Don’t touch that”, or the butt will ride the currents for years, or some species will decide it’s food and swallow it.

While waiting at the intersection for your light to turn green, an arm stretches out from the car in front of you, cocks and uncocks two fingers and flicks the nasty cigarette butt out of the pristine car s/he is driving, even as the smoke clears. As though no one notices? More than 4.5 trillion cigarette butts are littered world-wide each year.

One of the most disgusting annoyances is, again, found while waiting at the red light. Because you’re alert for the light to change, you notice the driver ahead of you carefully take his or her ashtray out of the car, so as not to litter in the car for Pete’s sake, and promptly dump the contents in the roadway, leaving a pile of filthy, nicotine-stained butts on the macadam to eventually find their way into the pristine waters that surround us in Southwest Florida. In a short time, you would be home or near a garbage can without polluting.

Okay, I get it that some newer cars don’t have ashtrays, but that’s no excuse to throw a lit or dead butt out of the window. Get a portable ashtray, they make them, and dump the butts in your own trash. Twice, I’ve called 911 about fires in the medians of Airport-Pulling Rd and Collier Blvd as a result of a discarded butt that’s still lit and hot. It takes up to ten minutes for a butt to die out and if it lands on something flammable, as has happened here, devastation could result. 

But wait, there’s more. It’s illegal and has the same penalty as if you dropped a bigger piece of litter – it’s litter, no matter what the size is. They’re found outside stores and restaurants in record numbers, parking lots and take-out lines. Is it too much of a strain to put it out and drop it in one of the many trash cans available for litter? It would take seconds to step on it to ensure the butt is out cold and then place it in the receptacle there for that purpose. 

We often hear about the plastics that are choking our waterways, beaches, and killing our sea life and birds. BUT, the real culprit in the pollution category is cigarette butts, which amount to over 200 tons of litter per year. I hope you are as stunned as I was to read this. And, cigarette butts are almost indestructible, in fact, it takes years for a cigarette butt to disintegrate and even after years, the plastic in the butt remains. And all the while the chemicals, like arsenic and lead elements, seep into our water systems. Many of the facts in this paragraph came from Truth Initiative, which you can search for at ( and find many related facts about emerging smokeless tobacco products, including pouches that can be concealed in the mouth, designed with flavors to appeal to our youth.

There are innovative companies trying to alleviate the amount of plastics that find their way into our landfills and waterways. I recently found some attractive jeans that were made from recycled plastic bottles so decided to try them. Not only do they fit well, they wash and dry beautifully with little shrinkage. My self-satisfied grin about this discovery was reinforced by doing something proactive to help our environment. There are other strategies of course, like recycling, instead of adding them to the landfill. Plastics are being recycled into many useful products, given the opportunity.

Innovative companies are also trying to alleviate the tons of cigarette butts by also making them recyclable. Into what, you might ask. Who would want anything made out of a dirty old cigarette butt? There’s a company called TerraCycle that has developed innovative ways of recycling “hard-to-recycle items,” according to Tom Szaky, CEO of TerraCycle, “from diapers to coffee pods to cigarette butts.” “With the recycled materials, they make new products including ashtrays, shipping pallets and plastic lumber for building usage. Organizations can place Cigarette Butt Receptacles in high-traffic areas, collect the waste and ship it to TerraCycle for recycling unto usable material.” (

Don’t you think that it’s time to get off our “butts” and clean up our Earth?



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