Thursday, December 13, 2012

I don't wanna see your butt

Photograph from Tobacco Free Michigan

Why do cigarette smokers think that it is ok to crush their cigarette butts on the ground and leave them there? Why do they think that it is ok to toss their butts out of the car window? I am genuinely puzzled by this. I’m not assuming that smokers would litter more than the general populace, apart from their butts. There is not, surely, a separate set of values that goes hand in hand with smoking. So why, then? Do they think it doesn’t matter? Perhaps they think it’s someone else’s job to clean them up. And it’s just one small butt, after all. Well, maybe two, three, four.... let’s say, twenty cigarettes/day/smoker, with perhaps five tossed to the ground; let’s say that one billion people smoke worldwide. That’s only five billion cigarette butts/per day finding their way into our soil and water system. That’s only 1.825 x 1012 cigarette butts per year. That’s 1,825 followed by nine zeros. A cigarette butt weighs approximately 0.006 ounces (0.18 g) – so 1.825 x 1012 cigarette butts weigh over 340,000 ton (UK), or almost 350 million kg. (This is about 1,000,000 polar bear equivalents – unfortunately there are only about 20,000 polar bears left; the rest have choked on cigarette butts.) Bear in mind (no pun intended) that this is probably a conservative estimate. Of course, not only is this an enormous quantity of litter, but cigarette butts contain (some) of the toxins that would have ended up in the smoker’s lungs. Thanks for sharing that with the wildlife, folk.

I can imagine, in a few thousand years, when human beings have finally driven themselves to extinction, an imaginary observer pondering in amazement the cigarette butt beaches that line the coastlines. An interstellar tourist attraction, perhaps. Hey, that might even be good for the economy... if there was one.

It doesn’t take much effort, surely, for a smoker to dispose of their butts responsibly. Wait, I have an even better idea: quit smoking and join the complainers! I guess the general message here is that our seemingly small actions do matter.

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