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Updated: Jun 19, 2023

For the last several years, I've taken a 4 - 5 mile walk each morning along the same route. When I first started, the roadway was strewn with aluminum cans, plastic and glass bottles, food containers, paper and cardboard scraps, and....cigarette butts - thousands of them. I finally decided I couldn't look at this debris any longer and began carrying a bag with me, usually on Sunday mornings, that I used to collect the trash from the previous week. Most of the time I fill the bag and dutifully add the garbage to our own cans at home for later disposal or recycling.

I used to become angry at these unknown litterbugs until I realized that wasn't helpful. Now I merely wonder to myself, "who does this?" Are their lives so pathetic that they simply don't give a shit about others, let alone the environment? I guess it's simply a part of the human condition.

So since I started my pickup campaign, I'm guessing I've retrieved more than 5,000 cigarette butts with my bare hands. Given that there are over 4 million miles of navigable roadway in the United States and I've gathered about 1,000 butts each year on a 4.5 mile stretch of road, I estimated that there are close to a billion butts tossed out of cars each year in this country.

I was wrong. In fact, a 2021 report estimates that there are close to 10 billion butts tossed each year along roads, parks, and waterways. South Whidbey Island where I live is a relatively progressive area and you don't see that many smokers, and my route is lightly traveled, so that may account for my modest number.

Cigarette butts are made of cellulose acetate, a plastic which is toxic to birds.

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