New city program seeks to address cigarette litter problems

%3Cem%3E%0ASan+Marcos%27+Main+Street+program+launched+a+cigarette+liter+prevention+Oct.+20+around+the+community.%0A%3C%2Fem%3E%0A%3Cbr%3E%0A%3Cstrong%3E%0APhoto+by+Cameron+Hubbard+%0A%3C%2Fstrong%3E

San Marcos' Main Street program launched a cigarette liter prevention Oct. 20 around the community.
Photo by Cameron Hubbard

May Olvera

With a $5,000 grant in hand, San Marcos kicked off an initiative Oct. 20 to reduce cigarette litter downtown.

In March, Keep America Beautiful, a national non-profit organization focused on improving and beautifying communities, named the San Marcos Main Street Program as one of 42 recipients of a grant geared toward establishing cigarette litter prevention programs.

According to San Marcos downtown groundskeeper Jeremy Gonzales, Main Street’s goal is to cut down cigarette litter by spreading awareness of it’s ecological harm and teaching smokers to properly dispose of cigarette butts. Gonzales said all of the cigarettes collected through the program are recycled.

“Locally, cigarette butts are one of the main things you pick up in litter,” Gonzales said. “The ability to recycle them into organic material and generate plastic pallets is one of the key parts of the initiative.”

For nearly nine months, Main Street has partnered with TerraCycle, a company that converts otherwise non-recyclable waste into reusable raw material. TerraCycle separates the cigarettes and packaging and melts them into hard plastic. This plastic can then be used to make recycled industrial products.

According to Gonzales, TerraCycle has received about 100 pounds of cigarette litter from San Marcos. The program relies heavily on volunteers who do downtown cleanups and collect the cigarette butts. At the end of each month, Main Street sends TerraCycle stacks of litter to recycle.

Before the Cigarette Litter Prevention Program officially came together, Main Street had already started alleviating the litter. Gonzales said within a month of working with the city, he began to notice how pervasive cigarette litter was downtown and began collecting data on the issue.

“That’s how the question of how we can reduce litter came to be,” Gonzalez said. “It was a very small idea, and I didn’t know to what extent I could get it to take off and explore what we could do. I basically just noticed a problem and got feedback from the community. They noticed that it was an issue too. Getting that feedback gave me more of a push to figure out what we had to do to reduce the cigarette litter.”

Rebecca Jenson, photography junior, said, as a smoker, she quickly noticed the issue too.

“I constantly see cigarette butts and boxes littered everywhere, from coffee shops to campus, and on the sidewalks where I walk my dog,” Jenson said. “So many people seem to ignore the fact that all these things end up in the river and how harmful that is.”

According to a study from San Diego State University, 4.5 trillion cigarette butts are thrown away every year worldwide, making it the most common form of litter. The study affirmed cigarette butts are toxic and often deadly to fish and other aquatic lifeforms; a single cigarette soaked in a one-liter bucket of water for 96 hours killed half of the fish exposed to it.

Jenson said when she smokes, she is always conscious of the harmful effects cigarette butts can have on the environment and does what she can to dispose of them properly.

“I personally make sure to throw away my butts in ashtrays or trash cans,” Jenson said. “If I can’t find one then I’ll stick them back in my pack to throw away later.”

Main Street has installed a dozen cigarette receptacles downtown to increase access to proper disposal, and they plan to add more.

According to Gonzales, the Cigarette Litter Prevention Program has already shown positive results.

“We already noticed from general data we’ve been collecting that compared to 2017 at this time, since we put these receptacles up, there has been a 40 percent reduction,” Gonzales he said. “It seems to be working and every little bit helps.”

To learn more about the Cigarette Litter Prevention Program and other Main Street initiatives, visit their website: www.downtownsmtx.com


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