Can your butts

Published 8:37 pm Monday, July 13, 2015

Lacie Nixson, the city’s litter control coordinator, shares information with Bobbie Myers at TGIF on July 10 about how the community can help keep cigarette butts off the streets.

Lacie Nixson, the city’s litter control coordinator, shares information with Bobbie Myers at TGIF on July 10 about how the community can help keep cigarette butts off the streets.

The city of Suffolk has joined a nationwide push to reduce cigarette butt litter.

The city and six other Hampton Roads localities, in partnership with, are participating in a national Keep America Beautiful program with the theme “Cigarette butts = litter.”

“The research that’s been done by Keep America Beautiful has shown that it is the most frequently littered item,” said John Deuel, a national trainer for Keep America Beautiful whose office is in Norfolk. “It’s probably the smallest item and seems inconsequential, but when you multiply that small item by the number of smokers in this country, it adds up.”

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Deuel said that is proven anecdotally by taking a look at “almost any major intersection or interstate entrance and exit ramp in Hampton Roads.”

Cigarette butt litter is a problem for a number of reasons, Deuel said. The most obvious is that it’s unsightly.

“Just like any of the other litter, once it builds up enough, we’ve got an appearance issue that is subtle,” he said. “If left alone, other litter will start building up as well.”

In addition, toxins in the filters leach into the environment, the filters themselves do not decompose, and a lit butt can spark a wildfire during a dry spell, Deuel said.

“We’re trying to elevate that in smokers’ minds, and to some degree others in the population,” Deuel said.

The program is designed to target the behavior of littering rather than the behavior of smoking, Deuel noted.

“This is not to attack the smokers,” he said. “Smoking is legal.”

In Suffolk, the program is focusing on the downtown Suffolk area. Narrowly tailored areas in the other cities have been identified as well, such as nTelos Pavilion in Portsmouth and City Hall Plaza in Norfolk.

A pre-scan was done to see how many cigarette butts were in the area before the program. It turned up about 300 butts in just part of the historic downtown area, said Lacie Nixson, the city’s litter control coordinator and Keep Suffolk Beautiful executive director.

A $12,500 Keep America Beautiful grant has provided new free-standing and wall-mounted receptacles to be placed in the target areas to encourage smokers to dispose of their butts properly. The grant also purchased 4,000 hand-held pocket ashtrays and 1,000 portable auto ashtrays to be distributed to adult smokers.

An additional $5,000 from has contributed to signage guiding smokers to the receptacles, as well as educational materials for distribution at times the sites are at peak use.

“We’re hoping that people will make the connection and use the receptacles more,” Nixson said while distributing educational materials at a last week’s TGIF concert, which she’ll do again this week at Constant’s Wharf. “A lot of people don’t realize cigarette butts are litter.”

According to Keep America Beautiful, cigarette butts represent 38 percent of roadway litter, 32 percent of litter in storm drains and 32 percent of litter in outdoor recreation areas. They are not biodegradable because they contain cellulose acetate, a form of plastic that will persist in the environment.

A follow-up scan in late August will determine how much litter has decreased.

Anybody can do something to help prevent cigarette litter:

  • Smokers can identify a cigarette butt receptacle before lighting up, carry a pocket ashtray, encourage fellow smokers to be responsible for their litter, and never throw butts out of car windows.
  • Businesses can provide receptacles outside their buildings, educate employees about their responsibility for a clean and safe working environment and participate in “adopt-a-spot” programs.
  • Community members can implement their own Keep America Beautiful Cigarette Litter Prevention Program.
  • Anybody can turn in cigarette waste to TerraCycle, which turns cigarette waste into industrial products such as plastic pallets. They accept butts, filters, loose tobacco pouches, outer plastic packing, inner foil packaging, rolling paper and ash. For more information on how to turn it in, visit
  • Anybody can join the #NoCigaretteLitterNow conversation on social media.