Firstly, a horrid heat wave made everything uncomfortable. (And the dress I wore gave me the most absurd tan line) Secondly, my terrible choice in footwear had blisters growing on blisters. To top it all off, it wasn't as if I was picking up soda can plastic rings preventing seabirds and cute ocean mammals from imminent death by plastic, but instead, suffering because I had to pick up countless cigarette butts!
Photo Credit: www.treehugger.com
In general, the stigma associated with flagrant public littering is fairly pervasive as mainstream society frowns on throwing trash out the window or on the ground. I remember a specific instance in San Francisco where I was in a car at a stop light and glanced out the window. Next to me was a minivan where a woman in the passenger side was finishing up a (delightful) meal from McDonalds. She took the entire bag of trash and dropped it out the window. Just threw it onto the street. Why she couldn't bear to have it in the car until she got home, I couldn't say, but flabbergasted, I recall seeing looks of horror on the faces of nearby drivers.
So why do so many people not find any problem with throwing cigarette butts on the ground?
Maybe they see the sand on the beach and think, ashtray?
Is there really that much of a difference between bags of fast food trash vs. a cigarette butt? Do smokers justify these actions because cigarette butts are small?
Smokers prove the fallacy of size. Size matters.
The unfortunate truth is, as one of the most common types litter found along the coast, cigarettes are absolutely terrible for the environment. As plastic litter breaks down into small non-biodegradable pieces and later chokes some poor sea creature to death, cigarette butts are made up of "12,000 plastic-like cellulose acetate fibers" and contain remnants of toxins and carcinogens that can be released into the soil and leach into groundwater.
In the time it's taken me to put together these observations, I've sat on the steps of a liberal and prestigious ivy league university and watched 7 people next to me stomp out their cigarettes and leave the butt on the ground (and one person spit into a planter).
Age, education, race, upbringing, it doesn't matter, littering butts is a socially accepted practice in smoking culture.
Maybe with scientific progress there will be some way to re-use the nasty plastics and toxins in butts, keep trying China, but the infrastructure alone in collecting and recycling butts worldwide feels insurmountable.
All I know is that after spending hours in the hot sun picking up scores of these, I can confidently say I never want to touch another butt again.
*yes it did happen, yes it was amazing, yes i hated/loved myself for days after.