Portland hopes to put an end to tobacco litter

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PORTLAND — A few months after banning smokers from lighting up in public parks, the city is now trying to stop used cigarettes from getting into streets and waterways.

“The butt stops here,” reads a sign in the city’s new anti-tobacco litter campaign, unveiled June 26. The sign, which shows a cigarette butt and a trash receptacle, now appears on city trash collection trucks, and may soon show up as a window decal in local storefronts.

Police cadets and park rangers also will distribute anti-littering information with the new design.

The campaign is designed to educate the public about the environmental dangers of tobacco litter and the city laws against it, according to a City Hall press release.

As he introduced the campaign near a storm-water outfall on Commercial Street last week, City Manager Mark Rees explained that, contrary to public belief, tobacco litter takes decades to biodegrade and often washed into waterways such as Casco Bay.

“This is a big concern for the city,” Rees said.

A city ordinance identifies cigarette butts and other tobacco litter as trash that must be disposed of in appropriate receptacles. Failure to comply with the ordinance can result in a fine of $100.

But Rees said the city’s goal isn’t to hand out fines.

“By focusing on education, we believe we can eliminate much of the problem,” he said. “It’s as simple as, ‘put it out, throw it out.'”

The city has already invested heavily in anti-littering measures. The Department of Public Services spends about $20,000 annually to clean downtown sidewalks, and two years ago bought a $40,000 sidewalk vacuum to scoop up cigarette butts, Director Mike Bobinsky said.

Still, much of the tobacco litter is washed through the city’s 4,000 catch basins and eventually into Casco Bay.

Joe Payne, of the Friends of Casco Bay advocacy group, said cigarette butts are the most common form of litter along the bay’s shores and waters.

“It’s all about cigarette butts,” he said. “They’re the most numerous item we find.”

Butts make up 38 percent of all litter along U.S. roads, according to research cited by the city. And when the tobacco litter finds its way into waterways, it can be toxic to marine life.

Payne cited a San Diego State University study that found that a single filtered cigarette butt, soaked for a day in a 1-liter bucket of water, released enough toxic chemicals to kill half the fish exposed for 96 hours.

“Cigarette butts are not good for the water or the critters who live in it,” he said. “We need to make this not OK.”

William Hall can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @hallwilliam4.

Sidebar Elements

Baykeeper Joe Payne, of Friends of Casco Bay, explains the impact discarded cigarette butts have on marine life at the June 26 launch of Portland’s anti-tobacco litter campaign.