Smokers probably do not intentionally set out to poison the local marine environment.
But that is exactly what many still do, every time they finish a smoke and toss their cigarette butts to the ground or in the water, said Lea King-Badyna, executive director of Keep Golden Isles Beautiful. As if folks still need to be reminded, KGIB is saying it again this summer: Georgia’s Coast is Not an Ashtray.
That is the common sense motto behind the second annual campaign against the No. 1 litter problem in the Golden Isles, not to mention all 100 miles of Georgia’s Atlantic coast. The cigarette litter prevention campaign will run through the summer, with public service reminders, distribution of free car and pocket ashtrays, social media promotions and other educational outreach programs, King-Badyna said. Additionally, KGIB will distribute some 8,000 coasters carrying the message to numerous local pubs and restaurants on Aug. 23.
The coasters will be used by the participating locations for a KGIB promotional event that day and afterward, as long as the supply of coasters lasts.
“It’s simple — we want people to stop flicking their cigarette butts,” King-Badyna said. “We want people to properly dispose of their cigarette butts. Since we’re a coastal city, with so many water resources, it’s imperative that we keep cigarette butts out of the the marshes and oceans.”
KGIB is conducting its Georgia’s Coast is Not an Ashtray campaign in conjunction with several other Keep Georgia Beautiful affiliates along the coast, including Keep McIntosh County Beautiful, Keep Camden County Beautiful, Keep Liberty County Beautiful and Keep Savannah Beautiful. Other participants include the City of Tybee Island, the Tybee Clean Beach Volunteers, the Ogeechee Riverkeeper and Fort McAllister and Crooked River state parks. It is made possible by a $10,000 grant from Keep America Beautiful.
Locally, the UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant is working with KGIB to spread the message.
“It’s huge to have a coast-wide regional partnership working on this and sharing the same message,” King-Badyna said.
Last year’s campaign allowed KGIB to increase the amount of cigarette butt receptacles in the Pier Village and at Postell Park on St. Simons Island and also in downtown Brunswick. This year, KGIB will add butt receptacles at Gould’s Inlet on St. Simons Island, Mary Ross Waterfront Park in Brunswick and Blythe Island Regional Park in the county, King-Badyna said.
Periodic surveys of the area show that providing these public butt receptacles makes a difference.
“We’ve counted cigarette butts at locations where these receptacles are provided, before and after,” she said. “Cigarette litter is decreasing in those places where they are available and accessible.”
Cigarette butts are not only litter; they also are poison. Butts are filters, comprised of cellulose acetate and designed to absorb much of the toxins and carcinogens contained in cigarettes. Those toxins leak into marine ecosystem once wet. Also, many fish and other marine life mistake them for food.
“It’s the nation’s No. 1 litter problem, and it’s worse than regular litter because it’s toxic,” King-Badyna said. “When butts get wet, they leach into the water. They string out when wet and look like jellyfish, and marine life consume them. They are basically toxic poison.”