Here in the Edson family household, following the leadership of my wife, Ingrid, we are on a mission to clean up litter. Truth be told, we haven't progressed very far on our mission, except that we have trasher picker-uppers and can be seen at my son's elementary school, bucket in hand, cleaning up the school grounds. But Ingrid has high hopes of addressing the atrocious conditions on Highway 280 near our home, cleaning up cigarette butts around our town, Palo Alto, and making people using trash picker-uppers ubiquitous at the campuses of our local schools. That's why we were thrilled when we happened across a kindred spirit on our way up to the mountains this past August. After a nice lunch, we were loitering beside our car waiting for my son to finish his ice cream sandwich and examining some of the goldrush artifacts on display at the center of town when we noticed a fellow loiterer hard at work with bucket and trash picker-upper. We introduced ourselves and met Sally Dawley, also known as the Butt Lady of Auburn, a woman with a mission and a quiet local hero. To date, the Butt Lady of Auburn has picked up more than three quarters of a million cigarette butts of her local streets.
It's worth pausing here to say that just because cigarette butts are small doesn't make dropping them on the ground NOT littering. Indeed, dropping cigarette butts on the ground is worse than littering, it is poisoning the local environment. The Butt Lady of Auburn told us that it takes 25 years for the poison and carcinogens in cigarette butts to decompose. In the meantime, animals are vulnerable to sniff, taste and even swallow them. And if animals sometimes do this, children may too. And without a doubt the rainwater that runs down our streets absorbs these poisons which then get taken up throughout our environment by every being living in it. Still don't think cigarettes can possibly be a BIG problem?
You can hear what the Butt Lady of Auburn has to say in the video above, but I will share the statistics here as well for those who like print and want to refer back to them without having to rewatch the video.
The Butt Lady of Auburn says that the amount of those tiny cigarette butts that get littered every year equals the weight of 30,800 full grown elephants. A full grown elephant on average weighs about 14,000 pounds. This means that 431,200,000 pounds of cigarette butts get littered every year. If you are a smoker and happen to be one of those folks whose rate of needing another cigarette is faster than the rate at which you can find a safe place to throw the last one away, you are part of a 400 million pound toxic litter problem in the heart of our communities. It's not a little thing, hanging your hand out your car window, opening your fingers, and letting that little poison stub drop to the pavement.
The Butt Lady wanted to know how many cigarette butts weigh one pound so she collected and weighed them. It turns out the answer is 2,540 cigarette butts weighs one pound.
This means that 1,095,762,400,000 cigarette butts get littered every year. Yes: More Than ONE TRILLION cigarette butts littered every year! In fact, other sources cite the number as much higher: 4 to 5 TRILLION cigarette butts per year!
This equals 54,762,400 packs containing 20 cigarettes each, which, at a cost of $7 per pack, equals $383,336,800 paid to cigarette companies for a poisonous product that causes disease and death not just to smokers, but to those who live around them, and likely even to those who live where cigarette butts are littered.
If you'd like to see more coverage about the Butt Lady of Auburn, check out these links: http://fox40.com/2016/08/19/butt-lady-of-auburn-keeping-her-city-clean-one-cigarette-at-a-time/ and http://sacramento.cbslocal.com/2015/12/23/butt-lady-auburn-clean-up/ .
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