Cigarette Butts Are the Most Commonly Littered Item in America
In the past 20 years, the percentage of Americans who smoke cigarettes has declined significantly but cigarette butts are still a major source of litter. Despite cigarette litter prevention efforts, cigarette butts remain the most littered item in the U.S. and across the globe:
- According to a 2009 research study by Keep America Beautiful, the overall littering rate for cigarette butts is 65%, and tobacco products comprise 38% of all U.S. roadway litter.
- During the Ocean Conservancy’s 2017 International Coastal Cleanup, cigarette butts were found to be the most littered item. In fact, volunteers collected 1,863,838 million butts!
Despite what many smokers may believe, flicking cigarette butts out of car windows, squashing them on the ground, placing them in planters, or dropping them in waterways are all acts of littering. Cigarette butts are unsightly, costly to clean up, create fire hazards, and are harmful to wildlife.
Taxpayers often “pick up” the tab for additional sidewalk and street sweeping, greenway and park maintenance, storm drain cleaning, and increased maintenance of stormwater filters. Business owners may also bear the expense of cigarette litter cleanup around entrances, exits, sidewalks, and parking lots.
Why do smokers litter? It may be due to a lack of awareness about the environmental impact. Because a cigarette butt is small, smokers tend to overlook the consequences of littering. New anti-smoking ordinances are also moving more smokers outdoors or to designated areas. Insufficient access to ash receptacles is also a factor. The phase-out of ashtrays as a standard feature in new cars presents additional challenges.
Keep America Beautiful’s Cigarette Litter Prevention Program supports local community improvement initiatives for reducing cigarette butt litter. An effective local program includes four proven, field-tested solutions or strategies for reducing cigarette butt litter:
- Review local cigarette butt litter laws (if any) and encourage enforcement
- Educate the public
- Place ash receptacles at transition points--those places where smokers must stop smoking before proceeding
- Distribute pocket ashtrays or portable auto ashtrays to adult smokers
Learn more about Keep America Beautiful’s Cigarette Litter Prevention Program.