If you live in San Francisco, you’ve likely noticed that it’s hard to go a block without seeing cigarette butts strewn about the sidewalk. It kind of makes sense, as buttcans are few and far between and it’s unsafe to throw a less-than-entirely-extinguished cigarette butt into the garbage. But this is a big problem, as cigarette butts hold toxic chemicals such as nicotine, arsenic, and formaldehyde. They are also made of plastic, which means that they never biodegrade. Butts left on the ground photodegrade into smaller and smaller pieces of microplastic that end up in our environment.
Cigarette butts are the most littered item in the world. In the Bay Area alone, smokers litter about 3 billion butts per year. Our dedicated Hold onto Your Butt (HOTYB) volunteers are working to install more buttcans in SF and beyond in order to provide smokers with a safe alternative to the ubiquitous cigarette flick.
To that end, our SF HOTYB Program Lead, Shelly Ericksen, recently won a competitive NOAA marine debris grant that will allow us to install about 200 buttcans in strategic locations across SF and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Our goal is to change the behavior of SF residents and tourists in order to drastically reduce the amount of butt debris that enters our waterways.
The HOTYB program recently installed 40 buttcans in the Richmond and Sunset Districts and found that the cans saved over 9,000 butts per month from going into the environment. (Public Works Ambassadors count the deposited butts and recycle them through teracycle.) After hearing about the success of this buttcan pilot program, the National Parks Service reached out to Shelly to suggest that she apply for the NOAA grant to support HOTYB’s buttcan installation initiative.
“One of the reasons NOAA was really interested [in our grant proposal] is because everyone is aware of this problem but people seem to be at a loss for how to address it,” Shelly says. “[NOAA was] excited to see that our program is gaining traction in the city and is actually working.”
Not only will the grant help us keep butts off the street, it will allow us to collect valuable data about the impact of our initiative. We’ll be placing the ~200 buttcans in heavily butt-littered locations across San Francisco, as well as in coastal areas outside the city, like Point Reyes. Public Works Ambassadors will count the butts deposited into the city cans and the NPS will count the butts deposited in the cans in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, so we will have a sense of the impact the cans are having.
“We’re going to need a lot of volunteers,” Shelly says, so stay tuned for upcoming volunteer opportunity dates! We’ll eventually need volunteers to help install the cans but, most immediately, we’ll need volunteers to scout areas to possibly install cans and to collect litter data at these locations so we can identify the most impactful installation sites. Look out for a Facebook event invite to a “Get Trashed” cigarette butt scouting event in the Richmond on Saturday, 10/20.
Shelly also wants the world to know that winning this grant wouldn’t have been possible without the support of her contacts at the National Parks Service, Sunshine Swinford from SF Environment, and Surfrider Headquarters.
These are exciting times for HOTYB. We hope you’ll join us in our butt can installation efforts this fall! If you’d like to learn more and get involved, check out our page!
We also encourage you to let your SF district supervisor know that getting butt litter off the streets is important to you. You can find your District here and your Supervisor’s email and phone number here. And please help us out by reporting spots that have a high volume of cigarette litter on 311!