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Communities report prolonged success in reducing cigarette butt waste

Keep America Beautiful (KAB) reports an average 55 percent reduction of cigarette litter in the communities implementing KAB’s Cigarette Litter Prevention Program (CLPP) during 2012. In 2012, the program’s 10th year, there were 195 grant-supported implementations across the country in a variety of places including downtowns, roadways, beaches, parks, marinas, colleges/universities, tourist spots and at special events.

Over the past seven years, the CLPP has consistently cut cigarette butt litter by half based on local measurements taken in the first four months to six months after a program implementation. Survey results also showed that as communities continue to monitor the program those reductions are sustained or even increased over time.

“Cigarette litter may still be a significant issue throughout the country, but our Cigarette Litter Prevention Program is making a difference in communities where the program is being implemented,” said Matthew M. McKenna, president and CEO of KAB. “Through consistent and persistent public education in combination with access to receptacles, we can lessen the environmental harm cigarette litter places on our landscapes and waterways.”

Tobacco products, consisting mainly of cigarette butts, are the most littered item in America, representing nearly 38 percent of all items, according to “Litter in America,” KAB’s 2009 study of litter and littering behavior. In response to this issue, KAB developed the CLPP with funding from Philip Morris USA, an Altria company. Since 2010, the program has received additional support from RAI Services Company. Since its inception, the program has been implemented in 1,263 U.S. communities.

“We studied 12 sites over an 11-week period and realized a 68 percent reduction in cigarette litter at sites where we had public education, signage and ash receptacles as compared with control sites where we didn’t have those CLPP program components,” said Adam Roberts, executive director of KAB affiliate Hot Springs/Garland County Beautification Commission in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

“Ground crews and staff at every site where interventions took place commented about the reductions in cigarette litter and – as important – litter in general,” added Roberts, who noted a 33 percent decrease in the amount of general litter at those sites.

In addition to Keep America Beautiful affiliates, KAB offered grants through its partnership with the International Downtown Association and International City/County Management Association in 2012. In Southwest Detroit, the West Vernor and Springwells Business Improvement District (BID) realized an 81 percent reduction in cigarette litter between July and October. With 10 receptacles installed, the organization estimated it saved four hours of maintenance per week. “The impact in reducing litter through the CLPP has been astonishing,” said Matthew Bihun, BID program manager.

Research has shown that even self-reported “non-litterers” often don’t consider tossing cigarette butts on the ground to be “littering.” KAB has found that cigarette butt litter occurs most often at transition points – areas where a person must stop smoking before proceeding into another area. These include bus stops, entrances to stores and public buildings, and the sidewalk areas outside of bars and restaurants, among others.

To address cigarette butt litter, KAB’s Cigarette Litter Prevention Program recommends communities integrate four proven approaches:

  • Encourage enforcement of litter laws, including cigarette litter;
  • Raise awareness about the issue using public service messages;
  • Place ash receptacles at transition points such as entrances to public buildings; and,
  • Distribute pocket or portable ashtrays to adult smokers.

The “Guide to Cigarette Litter Prevention” provides information about starting and maintaining a Cigarette Litter Prevention Program in your community, and can be found online at PreventCigaretteLitter.org.