By: Susan Smith
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection issued their Lake Erie Watershed Report in May 2003. The report draws attention to acid mine drainage, agricultural activities, and the collective effect of individual behaviors as major contributors to water pollution.
As a means of raising public awareness on one of the ways personal behavior contributes to water pollution, High school students involved in the Junior Pennsylvania Lake Erie Watershed Association (JrPLEWA) located in Erie, PA began a campaign to educate citizens on the impact litter, specifically the litter of cigarette butts, has on water quality.
Cigarette butts, which according to the Surfrider Foundation, are statistically the largest component of beach litter in the United States, are not made out of cotton but out of cellulose acetate tow (a form of plastic), which can take decades to degrade. Not only does cigarette litter ruin even the most picturesque setting, but the toxic residue in cigarette filters is damaging to the environment and poses a threat to birds and other forms of wildlife including aquatic species.
JrPLEWA decided to target the Erie bayfront to kick-off their campaign. The Lake Erie Bay area is a destination for anglers, boaters, tourists, area youth and patrons of the bayfront restaurants and the Bicentennial Tower and therefore an ideal location to begin to raise awareness of the connection between litter and water quality.
Wearing heavy plastic gloves, the students and their advisors started at the east and west slips of Dobbins Landing, on Presque Isle Bay, picking up every discarded cigarette butt along the way. They collected nearly 5,300, in an hour and one half. Motivated by the large amount of cigarette butts they collected, the group plans a minimum of two more cigarette butt clean-ups throughout the warmer months.
Following their cleanup of Dobbins Landing, JrPLEWA was invited to participate in the annual Discover Presque Isle July event held at Presque Isle State Park. Event chairman, Steve McDermott, Executive Director of the Presque Isle Partnership, suggested the students patrol the Lake Erie beaches and hand out pocket ashtrays as well as litter and garbage bags to encourage beach goers to keep the watershed litter-free.
As another means of reaching out to area smokers the group seeks to place stickers in the windows of willing businesses including information encouraging smokers to dispose of cigarette butts properly.
Members of JrPLEWA have also presented their cigarette butt campaign to Erie City Council. The students asked Council members to consider adding permanent signage to already standing parking regulation signs with the message; “no butts here”.
For additional information on the effects of cigarette litter please visit cigarettelitter.org.