Ryan Chartrand

Since I live in the little community of Grover Beach and can literally see the beach from my house, I often go down there to exercise and run along the breakwater in an effort to be healthy. But lately I’ve noticed the amount of litter getting bigger and bigger along these runs. I often have to stop and pick up beer cans, water bottles, and old toys that people leave in their wake after a weekend.

Sometimes, as I lay out and run my toes into the sand – trying to enjoy the best part about living on the coast – a cigarette butt comes up. It disgusts me that people think the beach is a large-scale ashtray.

According to the Surfrider Foundation, in 2000 there were 230,000 cigarette butts picked up along California’s beaches in one day during Coastal Cleanup Day. It was the No. 1 trash item found. Cigarette butts are the most widespread form of litter.

It’s bad enough that cigarette butts are the most commonly found trash items on the beach, but their toxins do even more damage. These little pieces of trash wash out into the ocean, polluting the environment and harming marine animals who eat them thinking they’re food. Plastic cigarette filters have even been found in the stomachs of fish, birds, whales, and dolphins.

According to tobaccofacts.org, there are 165 chemicals in cigarettes, including acetone, lead, formaldehyde, ammonia and benzene. These chemicals are released into the ocean and threaten the quality of the water. Cigarette butts are made out of cellulose acetate, which can take anywhere from two to 20 years to decompose. That’s a long time for something so small.

Luckily, there is a way to fight the problem. Municipalities can put out more easily accessible ashtrays for smokers to properly dispose of their cigarettes, and passersby can do their part in picking up this kind of litter. Don’t just walk over it and let someone else do the work; sure, community service organizations sometimes take the time to come out and pick up litter, but they don’t come every day.

Get involved with an organization like your local Surfrider Foundation and help out on days when people pick up trash. It’s a good way to meet people too!

If you don’t want to become part of the problem in the first place, set the example for others when you have a big group going down to the beach.

When you start a life and a family of your own, I’m sure you’ll want to take them to the beach to enjoy a nice hot summer’s day. Do you really want to get down to there and see nothing but piled-up garbage and cigarette butts? If we don’t act now and help save the beach, what will happen in the future when it’s too late and there is nothing left to enjoy?

I don’t know about you, but I really don’t want to lie out on a beach covered in cigarette butts. That’s not very appealing.

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