Running head: THE BIG BUTT PROBLEM 1
The Big Butt Problem:
An Environmental Analysis of Cigarette Litter in Pittsburgh
Point Park University
The Big Butt Problem 2
Table of Contents
Table of Contents……………………………………………………………………….. 2
How Litter is Addressed in Pittsburgh………………………………………………... 7
Analysis of the Information……………………………………………………………. 11
Litter in Other Places………………………………………………………......... 11
Fires Attributed to Cigarette Butts……………………………………………..... 14
Cigarette Filters- A Misconception of Safety…………………………………..... 15
Cigarette Butt Toxicity…………………………………………………………... 17
The Human-Environment Connection………………………………………….... 19
Chemicals Leached from Cigarette Butts……………………………………....... 21
Suggested Ways to Combat the Problem…………………………………………….... 23
Appendix A……………………………………………………………………….. 36
Appendix B……………………………………………………………………….. 37
The Big Butt Problem 3
Littered cigarette butts are a major problem in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, like most other
metropolitan areas. Littered cigarette butts contribute to blight and reduce the livability of
neighborhoods. They are costly to clean up and require constant upkeep. Cigarette butts can also
be considered toxins, as their effect on the environment and on those that come in contact with
them can be deleterious. Information about Pittsburgh’s current efforts to deal with littered
cigarette butts (including educational efforts and the installation of ashtrays) and suggested
initiatives are included in this environmental analysis of Pittsburgh’s littered cigarette butts.
Keywords: cigarette butts, environment, smoking, litter, Pittsburgh
The Big Butt Problem 4
The Big Butt Problem: An Environmental Analysis of Cigarette Litter in Pittsburgh
Littered cigarette butts can be a visual nuisance, especially in cities, where they plague
sidewalks, streets, gutters, bus stops, and parks. Their presence is often just accepted, and the
practice of throwing smoked butts to the ground is so commonplace that an actor would hardly
receive a second glance from an onlooker. These littered butts (and acceptance of their presence)
are a sign of an all-too-frequently unaddressed problem. Cigarette butts are not only unsightly,
but they are toxic to the environment and pose serious threats to living creatures that may
accidentally ingest them or become exposed to them.
When one considers the amount of cigarettes that are consumed annually in the United
States, it is easy to see how littered cigarette butts can become a burden on both the environment
and people. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that 499 billion
cigarettes were produced in the US in 2004, and 402 billion were consumed in the US during that
same time period (United States Department of Agriculture, 2004). Globally, about one-third of
the world population over the age of 15 smokes (World Health Organization [WHO], 1996).
It is this same population (those between the ages of 15 and 34) that is most likely to
litter, according to Keep America Beautiful, the United States’ largest nonprofit community-
improvement organization (Beck, 2007). Correlations between gender and littering habits have
also been noted. It seems that, globally, males are more likely to litter than females, and those
with higher education (tertiary and post-graduation) were less likely to litter than students and
the unemployed. Young adults are more likely to litter in groups than alone, and cigarette butts
are the most likely item to be littered (Beck, 2007).
The Big Butt Problem 5
In urban areas, litter is attributed to inadequate sanitation pick-up and handling, careless
disposal practices by adults and children alike, and the minimal effort given by urban residents to
pick up litter, especially in the absence of incentives. Cigarette butt litter, in particular, is
attributed to habitual disposal behavior of consumers by Philip Morris (Philip Morris, 2001).
However, habits can be changed. A 1974 study found that offering children payment for cleaning
up all of the litter in an urban yard resulted in a substantial decrease in litter amounts (Chapman
& Risley, 1974). Paying children could never be a viable option, as exposing children to
potentially toxic material is unlikely to be socially acceptable, but it shows that strong enough
incentives will lead most people to pick up litter in their neighborhoods.
Though the population of Pittsburgh is not made entirely of children, the same principles
can be applied to the people that live in Pittsburgh. The population of Pittsburgh is lower than
most other major cities at around 312,819 people in 2006 (US Census Bureau, 2010). Citizens
Against Litter, a Pittsburgh group of residents and business owners passionate about cleaning
litter, estimates that there are about 60,000 smokers in the city of Pittsburgh (if an estimate of
20% of the population of roughly 310,000 is used). If each of those smokers smokes an average
of ten cigarettes per day, it would mean that there are 600,000 cigarette butts that need to be
disposed of, either appropriately in ashtrays or receptacles or as litter, each day (B. Weinstein,
personal communication, June 17, 2010). Pittsburgh, however, has another issue. From late
August until early May, the city’s population density increases due to the influx of college
students to the many colleges and universities in the area. The number of smokers (and
potentially littered cigarette butts) could be higher, especially since the student age group (15-34
year olds) is the most likely to litter.
The Big Butt Problem 6
Reasons given for littering include laziness, no convenient bin nearby, habit and
forgetfulness, inconvenience of keeping the waste, and no ashtray available. Keep America
Beautiful found that most smokers that littered their butts recognized their butts as cigarette litter
and felt that littering was an important issue (Beck, 2007). It is also noted, however, that smokers
litter butts for other reasons, including the seemingly acceptable behavior pattern of littering
among smokers and the belief that cigarette butts are biodegradable or are too small to be
considered a problem if littered (Legacy, 2010).
Carmine Lombardi et al. point out that cities maintain an especially difficult cigarette butt
problem because butts are often embedded where street sweepers and brooms are unable to
reach, in places such as crevices, sidewalk gabs, potholes, and storm drains. At least 50% of all
waste in urban areas is thought to be related to tobacco consumption. This waste includes items
like cigarette butts, cellophane wrappers, papers, containers, lighters, matches, and cigarette
packaging materials (Lombardi, Cicco, & Zaga, 2009).
Further exacerbating the cigarette litter problem in Pittsburgh (and many other areas) is
the concern over second hand smoke. Lawmakers in many places, including the state of
Pennsylvania, have instituted indoor smoking bans. Both the state of Pennsylvania and
Allegheny County have bans that were created with the intention of reducing the risks of
exposure to second hand smoke in public places. Allegheny County specifically legislated an
indoor smoking ban “due to the acknowledged hazards arising from exposure to environmental
tobacco smoke,” with the aim of complying with Pennsylvania’s Clean Air Indoor Air Act
(Allegheny County, 2008).
Because of the chemicals found in tobacco smoke (carbon monoxide, toluene,
formaldehyde, nicotine, phenol, acetone, hydrocyanic acid, lactic acid, ammonia acid, nitrogen
The Big Butt Problem 7
oxides, benzo irene, acetic acid, nickel, benzene, arsenic, polonium-210, acetaldehyde, and
cadmium) and their known health effects, indoor smoking bans have been implemented in many
municipalities across the globe. These very same indoor smoking bans, however, force more
smokers outdoors, where there are often little to no options for cigarette butt disposal, usually
because there are no available and convenient ashtrays nearby. The same can be said for other
types of litter: without convenient receptacles in a close proximity, people are more likely to
improperly dispose of unwanted items. This may not be a huge problem in open or rural areas
where litter is less likely to accumulate in large amounts, but in high-density urban areas where
people often aggregate at common places (bus stops, street corners, sidewalks, parks, etc.) and at
“transition points,” between buildings, or at doors, litter can quickly become a problem.
Globally, much littered waste in “destination” places is derived because of tourism, and waste
amounts increase during peak tourist seasons. This same increase in litter could be true in a city
that experiences an influx in the fall and spring due to students arriving at the various colleges
and universities located within the city’s limits and colleges students’ social habits.
How Litter is Addressed in Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh, like many other cities throughout the world, has a heavy industrial-laden past,
which leads many people to think of Pittsburgh as a “smoky city” or a “steel mill town.” The
descriptions are no longer accurate, as steel mills have long since moved away from the city. In
their place came the development of technological, educational, and medical hubs, which have
turned Pittsburgh into an environmentally-friendly, technologically advanced, and research
driven city. The modernizing city has also undertaken efforts to reduce blight and redevelop
brownfields sites resulting in making many urban neighborhoods more livable.
The Big Butt Problem 8
In an effort to address blight and other environmental concerns, the City of Pittsburgh is
making an effort to become a more environmentally conscious and sustainability-oriented city.
City-owned vacant lots are being turned into community greenspaces for the enjoyment of all.
Vacant homes and buildings are being demolished and neighbors are being given the opportunity
to purchase these vacant properties as “side yards,” increasing their property values and reducing
blight and crime in neighborhoods. Abandoned cars are being towed and removed from city
streets and lots, and the city’s recycling programs saved the city $300,000 in landfill costs in
2009 (Clean Pittsburgh Commission, 2010).
However, Pittsburgh, like many other cities, still has a relatively unknown and
infrequently-documented problem. Litter plagues city streets and other public areas, causing
blight in neighborhoods and reducing the livability of communities. Despite the actions taken by
the City of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County to address litter concerns and organize cleanups,
litter still remains a visible problem. The City of Pittsburgh’s Municipal Code includes a section
about littering and dumping and includes penalties of up to $100 plus court costs for initial
violations and a maximum of $500 plus court costs for each additional violation. Excerpts from
this section of the code are attached as Appendix A (Pittsburgh Municipal Code. Ch 601, § 11,
14, 2002). Other litter laws, applicable at the state level, are attached as Appendix B. State litter
laws include $50 to $25,000 fines for litter and cover issues from waterways to public places.
Despite potentially hefty fines, litter laws are infrequently enforced, and litter builds up
In 2009, two litter cleanup events (Citywide Redd Ups) were conducted in 80
neighborhoods throughout the city. Roughly 10,000 volunteers (most of which were students)
volunteered at each cleanup, and 200 tons of trash and recyclables were collected. Other
The Big Butt Problem 9
municipalities, schools, and local nonprofits organized cleanups around the same time that drew
another 20,000 volunteers (Clean Pittsburgh Commission, 2010). While the types of litter have
yet to be characterized by item during these cleanup events, the near uniformity of data collected
from other cities during cleanups suggests that Pittsburgh, like many other cities, has a large
cigarette butt litter issue.
The Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership (PDP) started a cigarette butt litter campaign in
2001, and in the summer of 2009, it partnered with the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, Point Park
University, U.S. Steel Tower and BNY Mellon to purchase and install a type of ash tray that
attaches to pre-existing trash cans throughout the downtown area. This ensures that no new
receptacles need to be purchased, as the ashtrays are easily attached to the existing trashcans
(Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, 2010). These ashtrays can be seen in FIGURE 1.
FIGURE 1: PDP ashtrays attached to existing trashcans in downtown Pittsburgh
Source: Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, (2010)
The Big Butt Problem 10
Studies conducted at various points throughout the city aimed to examine the
effectiveness of these new ash trays. Pennsylvania Resources Council conducted surveys of
cigarette litter before and after the installation of ashtrays on trashcans. It was found that the
ashtrays only reduced cigarette litter 24-55% in Pittsburgh’s South Side business district. This
would mean that 45-75% of cigarette litter remained as litter, instead of being disposed of in
ashtrays (Pennsylvania Resources Council [PRC], 2007). This survey was funded by the
Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP) and the Keep America
Beautiful Campaign. The slight success of the ashtrays has sparked an interest in extending their
availability, and many more have been installed within the last year (Pittsburgh Downtown
Keep America Beautiful’s Cigarette Litter Prevention Program is designed to aid
communities with their goals of reducing cigarette litter and its associated problems. The
program boasts a 55% reduction of cigarette litter in the areas where the program has been
tested. The program includes resources for educational purposes (for all potential groups, ranging
from elected officials to store owners to smokers), suggested techniques for reducing cigarette
litter, and background information on cigarette litter and the problems that it can cause (Keep
America Beautiful, 2010).
The problems that are associated with cigarette litter in Pittsburgh are not just visual.
Litter cleanup crews can be costly to employ and maintain, and the city’s sewage treatment plant
has difficulty handling the amount of litter that enters storm drains. Pittsburgh has combined
sewer overflows (CSOs), like many older cities. CSOs were designed at a time when city
engineers thought that it made sense that both storm water and sewage should flow through the
same pipes to be treated by the treatment plant before being discharged back into a river. As the
The Big Butt Problem 11
city’s population grew, more pressure from increasing amounts of sewage was put on the pipes
to the point where precipitation events cause the CSOs to drain directly into the river. The
treatment plants quickly become overwhelmed with the amount of water to be treated, and the
CSOs completely bypass the sanitary treatment plant and both raw sewage and storm water (and
the litter contents within) enter the rivers and other waterways.
Allegheny County Sanitary Authority (ALCOSAN) recognizes that cigarette butts and
other litter are a costly problem. Cigarette butts with cellulose acetate filters pass through ¾ inch
bar screens and are removed as floatables in the sedimentation tanks. This adds to the cost of
wastewater treatment in both repair and disposal costs. An ALCOSAN public relations employee
acknowledged that “the improper disposal of any material, including those from cigarettes, can
be a burden on the treatment process and environmentally destructive to our waterways”
Analysis of the Information
Litter in Other Places
Groups throughout the country have conducted studies on litter that can be classified as
floatables once it enters a water treatment system. A New York City floatables study found that
cigarette butts were the most common item washed-up on beaches during the summer of 1998,
and constituted 24% of the total number of items in the study. The same study also found that
cigarette butts constituted 23% of the items that were counted as trash discharged through storm-
sewer/CSO sites (Newman, Leo, & Gaffoglio, 2000). Cigarette butts were the most dominant
part of litter by piece in New Jersey in 1991 as well (Cutter, et al., 1991). Nationally, cigarette
butts make up between 25 and 50% of all litter items that are collected from roadways and streets
The Big Butt Problem 12
in the United States, making them the most littered item along United States’ roadways
(Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, 2010).
Global studies show similar trends in data. A study conducted in Montreal reported that
CSO trash composition was 50% paper, “nearly all [of which was] cigarette butts.” Another
similar study conducted in Melbourne found that cigarette butts made up 23% of the storm water
trash, yet it was still “notable that much of the litter was related to cigarettes and associated
products” (Newman, Leo, & Gaffoglio, 2000). In the United Kingdom, cigarette butts were the
tenth most common item recorded during beach cleanups in 2005 (Crump, & Fanshawe, 2006).
Cigarettes and cigarette butts make up 27% of the marine litter items picked up along the
Mediterranean coast. In fact, of the 12 most commonly littered items, nearly half of them can be
attributed to smoking-related activities. FIGURE 2 shows the proportion of smoking-related
littering activities compared to all other littering activities along the Mediterranean coast from
2002-2006 (United Nations Environment Programme, 2009). This shows that smokers are
responsible for nearly half (45%) of the litter that was categorized in the study.
FIGURE 2: Source of the top 12 most littered items in the Mediterranean (2002-2006).
Source: United Nations Environment Programme, 2009
The Big Butt Problem 13
The Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup, a joint effort of communities
throughout the world to clean up littered areas and classify litter by type and amount, found that
1,492,092 pieces of trash collected in the participating clean-up events in 2009 were cigarette
butts. Globally, cigarette litter was the top collected debris item, making up 3,216,991 items,
including 18,555 cigarette lighters, 74,399 cigar tips, and 36,397 tobacco wrappers, boxes, and
packages. This is equal to 28% of all collected litter, the largest percentage of any litter type
(Ocean Conservancy, 2009).
This litter is usually attributed to lack of knowledge about cigarette litter, lack of
convenient receptacles or ashtrays, and laziness. It is widely accepted behavior among smokers
to discard cigarette butts on the ground. It is also a problem that smokers generally incorrectly
assume that cigarettes are made of paper and are thus biodegradable and are not litter. While
cigarettes and their butts may look like they are merely paper and will break down in the
environment, changes in cigarettes over recent decades suggest this is not the case.
Cigarettes do contain paper (as the wrap), but even the paper poses an environmental
problem. A smoker who smokes 15 cigarettes a day inhales paper in an amount equal to 137 size
A4 sheets yearly. More than 350,000 tons of paper are estimated to be used yearly to make the
paper that wraps cigarettes, causing deforestation and other global problems. This paper,
however, also contains chlorine for bleaching and ammonium sulphate to aid in combustion
(Lombardi, Cicco, & Zaga, 2009). The illusion that the paper in cigarettes makes them safer for
use and safer for the environment is merely that- an illusion.
The Big Butt Problem 14
Fires Attributed to Cigarette Butts
The safety of cigarettes can be called into question when one considers the amount of
fires that are attributed to cigarette butts. Whether through intentional or unintentional littering
acts, littered cigarette butts are often found on the ground in public places. The impact of a
cigarette butt on the environment is often one of the last things that a smoker considers when he
discards his butt onto the ground or throws it out a car window. There have been many instances
of wild and other fires being attributed to a cigarette butt thrown out of a car window along a
highway, extinguished on a camping trip, or by someone dropping their lit cigarette butt too
close to flammable materials. It is thought that globally, seven out of ten smokers throw their lit
cigarette butts from car windows, often causing damage to property and people (Lombardi,
Cicco, & Zaga, 2009). Local officials tend to enforce litter laws more stringently in areas that are
prone to wildfires, but are less likely to enforce litter laws against smokers in areas where fires
are less common.
Each year in the United States, there are about two million fires, the leading cause of
which is cigarettes and their associated smoking materials (matches, lighters, etc.). Eleven
percent of all fire-related injuries are due to young children (under the age of 10 years) having
access to cigarette lighters and matches (Leistikow, Martin, & Milano, 2000). In the United
States in 2005, cigarette butt-related fires caused an estimated 800 civilian deaths, 1,669 civilian
injuries, and $575 million in property damage. Deaths caused by cigarette-related fires are
included in international statistics of deaths from tobacco smoke (Lombardi, Cicco, & Zaga,
2009). House fires can be huge problems and quickly spread in high-density urban areas where
homes and valuables are close together, increasing the costs associated with the incident and the
likelihood of serious damage.
The Big Butt Problem 15
Cigarette Filters- A Misconception of Safety
Cigarettes in one form or another have been around for hundreds of years, but cigarettes
in the form we know today have only been around since the 1950s, a time when the detrimental
health effects of smoking were becoming wide-spread knowledge and the scientific community
was responding with “safer” cigarettes. These modern cigarettes were “safer” because of the
development and use of filters to trap tar and nicotine with the aim of reducing the hazards
associated with smoking. In 1950, sales of cigarettes with filters constituted 1.5% of all cigarette
sales. Now, however, in response to the evidence linking cigarette smoking to lung and other
cancers, emphysema, heart disease, and other maladies, nearly all (95-99%) of cigarettes sold in
the United States contain filters (Novotny et al., 2009; Register, 2000).
These “safer” filtered cigarettes were no safer initially, because some early filters
contained asbestos and were actually equally as, if not more, harmful as cigarette without filters.
From 1952 to 1957, 13 billion cigarettes were put on the market that contained filters made of
30% asbestos, and 70% cotton and cellulose acetate. It was not until laborers on the production
line for the filters started dying of lung cancer that the connection between asbestos and cancer
was made and the use of asbestos in cigarette filters ceased (Lombardi, Cicco, & Zaga, 2009).
Filters instead began to be made of cellulose acetate, a cheaply made form of plastic.
The purely cellulose acetate (occasionally with added activated charcoal) filters have
proven to be trouble in disguise for a multitude of reasons, most notably due to concerns over
their potential to convince smokers that cigarettes are not as harmful as they seem and to make it
easier for children to start smoking by causing reduced irritation the first time they smoke
(Novotny et al., 2009). The National Cancer Institute has recognized that there have been no
changes to public health with changes in the design and manufacture of cigarettes since the
The Big Butt Problem 16
1950s (National Cancer Institute, 2001). A new problem, however, has come about because
filters are now known to fall apart and be inhaled by the smoker, often becoming trapped in the
lung, leaving tar remnants, carcinogens, and plastic pieces lodged in the lungs of smokers
(Hastrup et al., 2001). While filters do reduce the toxicity of many chemicals in cigarettes,
changes in the agricultural, manufacturing, and curing processes of tobacco have resulted in an
increase in incidences of certain types of lung cancer, most likely because of added agents
(Hoffman & Hoffman, 2001).
Modern-day cigarette filters are cotton-like in appearance and contain thousands of
plastic-like fibers that are designed to absorb tar, nicotine, and other particulates to reduce the
amount consumed by the smoker. These filters are made of cellulose acetate, a non-
biodegradable plastic material that easily traps particulates and other harmful substances from
entering the smoker’s lungs (Novotny et al., 2009). Many of these harmful substances become
trapped in the filter, and remain in the cigarette butt even after the cigarette is extinguished.
A lesser known, and potentially more wide-spread, problem with cigarette filters is their
environmental impact. Cigarette filters, specifically those made with cellulose acetate, are
photodegradable, but are not biodegradable, or capable of being broken down by living
organisms in relatively quick natural processes. It takes about two years for the cellulose acetate
filters to decompose, and that is only with the proper aerobic conditions. These filters, being a
plastic material, will never truly break down, but will instead become smaller and diluted in
water and soil as they travel through streets, storm drains, streams, rivers, and eventually make it
to the ocean if not first ingested or cleaned up (Novotny et al., 2009).
The Big Butt Problem 17
Cigarette Butt Toxicity
When laziness and habitual behavior of smokers is combined with the lack of incentives
for cleaning up litter, littered cigarette butts pose an especially unique problem that is not as
apparent in other “commonly littered” items. While most littered items are merely unsightly,
cigarette filters that contain tobacco residue and trapped toxic chemicals contribute many toxins
and carcinogens into the environment when they are improperly disposed of as litter. It is argued
by some that cigarette butts should be treated as a hazardous waste due to the presence of
numerous toxic chemicals. Cigarette butts contain the same hundreds of hazardous chemicals
that are present in cigarette smoke. It is estimated that about 50% of the volatile organic
compounds contained in cigarettes remain in the filter. If at least 10% of the harmful products
present in un-smoked cigarettes remains in the butts, worldwide contamination of hazardous
chemicals released into the environment through cigarette butts is about 7,800 tons of various
chemicals (Lombardi, Cicco, & Zaga, 2009).
Tossed cigarette butts can contain substances that are dangerous to the environment;
however, no complete and exhaustive list of chemicals in cigarette butts exists because the
chemicals are dependent upon a number of different factors. Toxic and harmful substances in
cigarettes and cigarette butts include polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), benzo pyrene,
benzene, cadmium, tar, formaldehyde, ammonia, polonium-210, acetaldehyde, hydrogen
cyanide, acetone, and heavy metals. Heavy metals in cigarettes can be found in all parts of the
cigarette- in mainstream smoke, in side stream (second-hand) smoke, in the ashes, and in the
butts. These heavy metals include arsenic, barium, cadmium, copper, iron, lead, manganese, and
zinc, all of which can be harmful when ingestion or exposure occurs. Children and pregnant
women are especially at risk, as heavy metals are associated with birth defects and neurological
The Big Butt Problem 18
disorders in young children. These metals can vary in concentration depending on where the
cigarette was created and on the brand. Different brands contain different additives, and the
geographical location of tobacco production can also effect the chemical composition of
cigarettes and thus cigarette butts (Lombardi, Cicco, & Zaga, 2009). For instance, higher
concentrations of arsenic, lead, and zinc have been found in Korean cigarettes than in cigarettes
from the United Kingdom. This could be attributed to differences in tobacco production,
harvesting, drying, and the addition of flavor and chemical additives to cigarettes (Jung,
Thornton, & Chon, 1998).
One location- and brand-dependent harmful substance present in cigarettes is plutonium-
210. Plutonium-210 has been found in all parts of the cigarette: the cigarette, the smoke, the
ashes, and the butt. It is estimated that 35% of the polonium-210 in cigarettes remains in the butt,
and 15% can be found in the ashes of a smoked cigarette. In Italy, 1872 million Bq (becquerel,
the international measure of radioactivity) of polonium-210 are released into the environment
each year (Lombardi, Cicco, & Zaga, 2009). The United States Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention’s National Center for Environmental Health (CDC) recognizes that polonium-210,
though found in the environment at very low levels, “is considered to be one of the most
hazardous radioactive materials known, but it must be breathed in or eaten to exert its toxic
effects” (Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 2010). Polonium-210 is carcinogenic, but the level
in cigarettes depends upon where and how the tobacco was cultivated. Polonium-210 in
cigarettes comes from the direct absorption of radionuclides from fertilizers used on soil through
the roots of the tobacco plants. Different fertilizers are used in different parts of the world and
will create different levels of polonium-210 in the soil. The CDC also notes that tobacco leaves
concentrate polonium-210, providing a unique risk of exposure to smokers. Butts with trace
The Big Butt Problem 19
amounts of tobacco contain more polonium-210 than butts without any tobacco remnants;
however every smoker smokes cigarettes to different points, so there is no way to determine how
many butts contain tobacco remnants and how many do not (CDC, 2010).
The Human-Environment Connection
Hazardous chemicals from cigarettes are not solely a problem for the environment itself.
Cigarette butts are commonly mistaken for food by animals, and young children and those
suffering from pica (habitual eating of non-food items, including dirt and trash) are more likely
to ingest cigarettes. Cigarette butts have been found in the stomachs of turtles, fish, whales,
birds, and other marine and land creatures that mistake them for food (Lombardi, Cicco, & Zaga,
2009). Studies conducted by the Centers for Disease Control have shown that ingestion of
cigarette butts and other cigarette and tobacco products by children (especially those under the
age of 6 years) can result in nicotine poisoning and other minor toxic effects (CDC, 1996).
Nicotine, the addictive substance in cigarettes, is a known toxin. Nicotine is lethal to humans at
50 to 60 milligrams (mg), and is lethal to children in amounts as low as 10 mg; however 1 to 2
mg of nicotine is enough to create a toxic effect in children. Cigarettes contain between 9 and 30
mg of nicotine, and their butts alone contain 0.1 to 1.5 mg of nicotine. Ingestion of just one butt
could be enough to poison a child, and ingestion of an entire cigarette could be fatal (Legacy,
2010). It would not be difficult to imagine a child picking up a cigarette butt off of the ground in
a park or on a beach, where cigarettes are often littered by tourists or passersby.
Due to its highly toxic nature, nicotine is used as a pesticide because of its similar effects
on insects and other life forms. Nicotine is rapidly absorbed and metabolized by the body. It is
water soluble and very toxic to aquatic organisms and the environment. It is estimated that 0.1 to
The Big Butt Problem 20
4.5 mg of nicotine remain in each cigarette butt (the higher amount is attributed to butts with
tobacco remnants), amounting to nearly 324 tons of nicotine that enter Italy’s environment each
year due to discarded cigarette butts. France has already banned the use of nicotine-containing
pesticides because of their effects on bees and other important insects. These pesticides cause
death and disorientation to those exposed to them. Bees are an important agricultural insect
because they pollinate plants, so the agricultural industry suffers when chemicals are used that
effect the bee populations negatively (Lombardi, Cicco, & Zaga, 2009).
The toxic effects of cigarettes on animals have also been noted. Nicotine exposure in
dogs (through ingestion) can lead to nicotine toxicosis, which is characterized by “excitement,
tremors, auditory and visual disturbances, incoordination, weakness, twitching, and possibly
convulsions” (Hackendahl, & Sereda, 2004). In dogs that have ingested a large number of
nicotine-containing products, the prognosis is often very grave unless the dog can survive the
first four hours after ingestion (Hackendahl, & Sereda, 2004). In a “dog-friendly” municipality
where canines often accompany their human companions to local parks, on walks through
neighborhoods, to coffee shops, and on regular errands, it is not difficult to see the dangers that
cigarette butts pose to the city’s pet population. Cigarette butts have also been found in the
stomachs of young birds, turtles, and other marine creatures that often confuse them for food
(Lombardi, Cicco, & Zaga, 2009).
Ingestion is not the only concern regarding littered or improperly disposed cigarette butts.
Studies have shown that the chemicals in used cigarette butts are toxic enough to kill aquatic
organisms. A researcher at San Diego State University has determined that a solution made of
one smoked cigarette butt in approximately one liter of water is enough to kill 50% of both
freshwater Flat Head Minnows and saltwater Smelt in a 96 hour period (City of San Francisco,
The Big Butt Problem 21
2009). It has also been shown that water fleas (important plankton-like crustaceans that are
generally unnoticed yet still an important base part of the food chain) die when exposed to used
cigarette butts diluted in water at a ratio of 0.125 butts per liter, or roughly one butt for every two
gallons of water. Tar remnants from cigarette butts also appeared on the water fleas’ swimming
hairs and caused great disturbances in their swimming patterns, which could potentially threaten
their lives (Register, 2000).
A similar study showed that there was some variation in water fleas’ resistance to
cigarette butts that was dependent upon brand of cigarette. This study also showed that different
types of organisms have different sensitivities to used cigarette butts. The tested bacterium was
more resistant to the cigarette butt-water solution than the water flea. Most importantly, however,
was the authors’ speculation that the organic compounds in cigarette butts, specifically nicotine
and ethyl phenol, were the main causes of toxicity to the water flea. (Micevska et al., 2006).
Chemicals Leached from Cigarette Butts
Other chemicals can leach from cigarette butts as well, and their direct effect on the
environment is unknown at this point. Many of these chemicals, however, are known
carcinogens and toxic heavy metals, and their effects on humans are well understood. Their
effects on aquatic organisms and animals dependent upon the water for drinking purposes are
less documented. It has, however, been shown that barium, iron, manganese, and strontium leach
into the environment, with increasing concentrations over time, from smoked cigarette butts.
This makes cigarette butts a point source for the release of these metals into the environment for
at least one month (the test length) after their improper disposal. Other metals, including lead,
titanium, and zinc, leach their maximum concentrations instantaneously and can pose an acute
The Big Butt Problem 22
threat to nearby organisms immediately, especially those that ingest them or the water in which
they are diluted (Moerman & Potts, 2009).
If cigarette butts are too heavily accumulated in a small enough water supply, they could
have the potential to increase heavy metal (and other contaminant) concentrations and potentially
exceed federal drinking water standards. TABLE 1 (below) lists the known chemicals in
cigarettes that are regulated in drinking water by the EPA along with their maximum allowable
contaminant levels and their toxic effects in humans. Again, their toxic effects in animals and
aquatic species are uncertain at this point.
Chemicals Found in Cigarette Butts and Their Drinking Water Standards
Chemical Levels (mg/L) Potential health effects from ingestion of water
skin damage or problems with circulatory systems, and
Arsenic 0.0100 may have increased risk of getting cancer
Barium 2.0000 increase in blood pressure
Anemia; decrease in blood platelets; increased risk of
Benzene 0.0050 cancer
Benzo pyrene 0.0002 Reproductive difficulties; increased risk of cancer
Cadmium 0.0050 Kidney damage
Technique; Action Short Term exposure: Gastrointestinal distress
Copper Level=1.3000 Long term exposure: Liver or kidney damage
Iron 0.3000 Undocumented
Infants and children: Delays in physical or mental
Treatment development; children could show slight deficits in
Technique; Action attention span and learning abilities
Lead Level = 0.0150 Adults: Kidney problems; high blood pressure
Manganese 0.0500 Undocumented
Zinc 5.0000 Undocumented
Source: United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2009
The Big Butt Problem 23
These levels, it is important to note, are safe levels of human consumption. Even though
pubic water supplies are most likely too big to be affected by cigarette butts to be at a harmful or
toxic level of consumption, it would not be hard to imagine how the water quality in a small lake
or pond could be affected by a large enough number cigarette butts from smokers that litter their
butts nearby. This is especially likely to occur in high tourist or common areas that have small
ponds. Safe consumption or exposure levels for aquatic species and animals that rely on the
water for drinking purposes may be affected by toxin concentration levels that are different from
human toxicity levels, making the situation potentially more dangerous to aquatic species and
animals relying on the drinking water.
Suggested Ways to Combat the Problem
Cigarette butts are highly toxic, especially when ingested or diluted in small amounts of
water. The effects of cigarette butt ingestion and exposure on children, pets, marine animals, and
insects suggests that cigarette butts are a highly toxic form of litter, and should be regulated as
such. All too often, littering cigarette butts is ignored. This issue needs to be addressed fully by
governments, officials, nonprofits, and smokers to come to a solution that will protect the city’s
environment and populations.
Thomas Novotny et al. describe some policy initiatives that can be of use in reducing the
cigarette litter problem if implemented by governments. These include mandatory actions taken
by the cigarette manufacturers, taxes, litigation, deposit/return systems, fines, bans, and
educational initiatives. Some of these methods are more plausible than others, but they all
deserve consideration as they all address the problem of cigarette litter.
The Big Butt Problem 24
Requiring cigarette manufacturers to implement techniques to educate their consumers
about littered cigarette butts is an offered solution. One technique is through the use of warning
labels on packages. These labels could inform consumers that cigarette butt filters are non-
biodegradable toxic wastes, and should be disposed of in accordance with state and local laws.
Other items employ this technique, including aluminum cans, bottles, and plastics that encourage
consumers to recycle their products (Novotny et al., 2009).
Novotny et al. also suggest that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should regulate
tobacco products. This type of oversight would allow the FDA to set standards regarding the
contents and packaging of cigarette butts, and would allow the FDA to require changes in
tobacco products to meet current standards. This type of oversight could lead to changes in
ingredients to make them safer, including reductions of additive and nicotine levels. This could
also give the FDA the power to mandate biodegradable filters, which would result in cigarette
manufacturers creating and marketing with acceptable biodegradable alternatives to cellulose
acetate filters. This is another form of requirement that can be placed upon the cigarette
manufacturers (Novotny et al., 2009).
Novotny et al. stress that governments have the power to address cigarette litter.
Governments can (and have done in many instances) ban products that are known to be
hazardous or that are likely to be disposed of improperly. Previous items subject to this type of
regulation have included plastic tampon applicators, which washed up on beaches, and pop-tops
on aluminum cans, which were commonly littered and could cause injury when stepped on.
States and local governments can ban the sale of cigarettes with non-biodegradable filters or
those that are not “fire safe” (Novotny et al., 2009).
The Big Butt Problem 25
Financial incentives have also been suggested to deal with cigarette litter. One type of
financial incentive is through a deposit/return system, whereby a consumer pays a “butt deposit”
that will be refunded when a pack is returned to the vendor with all butts enclosed. Similar
initiatives have been undertaken by states to address clean-up costs associated with littered glass
and plastic containers. This type of mechanism both encourages smokers to return their butts and
encourages others to clean-up littered cigarette butts in exchange for the deposit amount. It
would also increase the direct costs of smoking by adding a fee to every pack, which may
discourage some smokers from continuing their habit (and consequently reduce their cigarette
litter) (Novotny et al., 2009).
Another type of financial incentive, a waste tax, has been implemented in some
municipalities. A small tax would be added to the cost of cigarettes to pay for the proper
recycling or disposal of cellulose acetate filters, putting the costs of cleaning up cigarette litter on
those that consume cigarettes. This type of tax has already been implemented broadly for certain
consumer products such as electronics. Manufacturers are also supportive of this program and
generally share responsibility (Novotny et al., 2009).
San Francisco currently implements such a tax, which was carefully calculated to cover
the costs of cleaning up littered butts and dealing with their toxic ingredients. In a 2009 audit
conducted on San Francisco’s litter, 25% of all street and sidewalk litter was found to be
cigarette butts and related packaging, which carried cleanup and disposal costs of over $6 million
to the city. The appropriately calculated tax is $0.20 per pack, and the tax is intended to cover the
costs of reducing cigarette litter on city streets, sidewalks, and public properties. The tax money
is put into a fund (called the Environment Cigarette Litter Abatement Fund), which is allocated
towards cigarette litter cleanup costs and an education campaign to prevent cigarette litter. The
The Big Butt Problem 26
city found that “imposing a litter impact fee directly on the cigarette purchaser at the point of
sale for cigarettes sold in the City is the most practical and equitable revenue mechanism to
recover the public expense required to abate cigarette litter” and it provides the added benefit of
helping to better balance the city’s budget (City of San Francisco, 2009).
The third, and perhaps most common, type of incentive to reduce litter is through the use
of fines. Fines are currently levied by some governments to encourage smokers to respect
smoking bans (when in place) or litter laws. Cigarette litter is litter, and should be treated and
addressed as such by authorities. Fines for littering are as high as $1000 in some states. It is also
suggested that fines could be levied against cigarette manufacturers based on the large amount of
littered cigarette butts that can be found. Money from these fines would go towards clean-up and
disposal costs. Fines could also act to discourage smokers from smoking, and potentially could
lead to a reduction in consumption of cigarettes, and thus a reduction in associated litter.
Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) spends over $10 million each year
cleaning up roadside litter. Increased fines or more stringently enforced laws could help
PennDOT recuperate some of those costs (Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, 2010).
Another recommended method of reducing cigarette litter is through litigation. Litigation
against the tobacco companies has thus far only concentrated on the health effects of smoking.
Novotny et al. note a comparison between hazardous waste generators and cigarette
manufacturers and suggest that cigarette manufacturers could be held as liable for consumer
waste as hazardous waste generators. Frequently, hazardous waste generators can be held liable
for waste that is discharged into the environment through handlers or consumers. If cigarettes
were defined as a hazardous waste, tobacco manufacturers could be held liable for every phase of
their product, from cradle to grave (Novotny et al., 2009).
The Big Butt Problem 27
The last and most supported of Novotny et al.’s ideas is education of consumers and
regulating officials. It is recognized that human behavior changes slowly without costs, benefits,
and the pressures of changing social norms. Educating smokers to prevent them from littering
would discourage other smokers from littering as well. Coupled with fines for littering and some
sort of incentive for proper disposal, cigarette litter can be greatly reduced. It is important to note
that education of regulating agencies and officials is an important part of the process, as all too
frequently, cigarette litterers are ignored. It is necessary to educate smokers, sanitation workers,
and police officers about the effects of cigarette litter and the importance of its proper disposal so
that litterers can be properly addressed and cited, if applicable.
Effective anti-littering campaigns should be conducted in schools, workplaces, and
through mass media to educate people about the environmental hazards of littering cigarette
butts. There are currently many public education campaigns that work to achieve these goals and
provide resources for reducing the impact of littered cigarette butts. One major proponent of this
educational effort is Keep America Beautiful, which encourages and aids organizations in their
educational efforts to reduce cigarette litter in communities (Novotny et al., 2009).
Often, cigarette litter education campaigns can include the distribution of portable
ashtrays. Many organizations provide free fire-resistant, washable and reusable portable ashtrays
to smokers to prevent unnecessary cigarette litter. The Keep America Beautiful Campaign
(sponsored by Philip Morris) provides funds and resources to educate communities and leaders
about littered cigarette butts, and these funds are often used to provide portable ashtrays free of
charge to smokers (Lombardi, Cicco, & Zaga, 2009). It has even been suggested that these ash
trays be made mandatory to prevent smokers from littering their cigarette butts.
The Big Butt Problem 28
Other suggestions have been brought forth to help reduce the environmental impact of
littered cigarette butts. Three states (California, Texas, and New York) have laws mandating the
sale of only “fire safe” cigarettes that will extinguish themselves. The European Union will make
“fire safe” only cigarette sales mandatory beginning in 2011. “Fire safe” cigarettes extinguish
themselves within minutes, reducing the chance of fire. Canada was the first country to mandate
such cigarettes (Lombardi, Cicco, & Zaga, 2009).
It has even been suggested that cigarette butts can be recycled and employed in the
creation of light-weight fired clay bricks. Butts can be an effective way for reducing the energy
required for brick firing and putting collected cigarette butts to good use (Kadir & Mohajerani,
2010). The chemicals in cigarette butts also reduce corrosion rates of steel and some other
metals. Increasing concentrations of cigarette butt water extracts decrease the corrosion rate of
steel (Zhao et al., 2010). This shows that cigarette recycling for use in industry could be a
promising and useful method of reducing littered butts.
It is clear from the available information that cigarette butts are not only unsightly, but
toxic as well. The sheer number of cigarettes littered annually around the world suggests that
cigarette butts may be one of the most-ignored hazardous items on earth. The effects of these
hazardous toxins can be seen when cigarette butts are ingested or are diluted in water. Heavy
metals from cigarettes can leach into the environment and can have adverse health effects on
anyone exposed to them, and can wreak havoc on natural biotic systems. Many of the chemicals
found in cigarette butts are known carcinogens, and many of them are considered poisons, such
as arsenic and nicotine, which is often used as a pesticide.
The Big Butt Problem 29
While it is already known that cigarette butts can leach chemicals into the immediate
environment, further research needs to be conducted to determine direct paths of exposure from
cigarette butts to the environment. Other than ingestion and dilution in water, other methods of
exposure (for instance, as dust in the air or through skin contact) need to be examined in more
detail to further ascertain the true harm that littered cigarette butts can pose to Pittsburgh’s local
environment and populations. Even without the knowledge of direct exposure paths to the
environment, it is clear that cigarette butts can harm wildlife and people that ingest them, and
they can harm aquatic organisms that are subjected to cigarette butts in water.
While some of the previously mentioned methods are unlikely to be implemented in
Pittsburgh (at least in the near future), the ideas cannot all be disregarded entirely. Pittsburgh
could greatly benefit by implementing many of these ideas. While mandatory labeling, litigation,
and FDA regulation are or may be out of the scope of Pittsburgh’s authority, Pittsburgh as a city
could certainly institute a ban on cigarette butts with cellulose acetate filters or mandate “fire
safe” only cigarette sales. To further reduce conflicts associated with banning item sales,
Pittsburgh could ban smoking from outdoor public places, including those places where children
or pets are most likely to encounter cigarette litter, such as parks, playgrounds, school grounds,
sidewalks, community gardens, etc.. Further research needs to be done to determine if this is an
effective way of addressing the issue in Pittsburgh, as bans on filtered cigarettes could
potentially lead to less safe cigarettes (those without filters) being sold in Pittsburgh, which
could increase the city’s health related expenses and increase the burden on local health
resources. Instituting a smoking ban in public places could cause a cigarette litter problem at the
transition points between places where smoking is and is not banned, such as park entrances or
streets. These possibilities need to be addressed through research studies.
The Big Butt Problem 30
Most notable of the suggestions is the implementation of financial incentives. The City of
Pittsburgh has had budget troubles, so creating additional fees associated with cigarette smoking
is a great way to bring in some extra revenue and reduce the volume of littered cigarette butts
that are present in many places throughout the city. A waste tax has been calculated in San
Francisco to come up with a tax amount per pack that will effectively cover clean-up and
disposal costs associated with cigarette litter. Further calculations would need to be undertaken
to determine what tax amount would adequately cover cleanup and disposal costs and fund an
anti-litter campaign that includes installation of ashtrays throughout the city. San Francisco
provides a great model for an effective tax calculation that benefitted both the city’s budget and
the public, as butts were reduced and cleaned up.
Fines are another great way that Pittsburgh could increase revenue and reduce
environmental contamination at the same time. In order for fines to be enforced by local
authorities, an educational campaign needs to be created and directed at informing local
authorizes about the dangers of littered cigarette butts, including blight, crime relationships,
environmental contamination and its effects, the prospect of fires, and the non-biodegradability
of cellulose acetate filters. Basically, cigarette butts need to be seen as the litter that they are in
order for any type of effective remediation measures to be taken. Education is the first and most
important step towards implementing any type of enforcement system, as authoritative figures
need to know the dangers associated with littered cigarette butts in order to enforce anti-littering
laws and to levy fines.
A deposit/return system is unlikely to be effective in Pittsburgh because there is currently
no other similar system in place for any item. Accounting for all of the butts in a pack could
prove difficult, and correct disposal practices need to be in place in order for the butts to be
The Big Butt Problem 31
disposed of properly by the refunders. This type of system is more likely to be initiated in a state
that has similar programs in place for glass and plastic containers, such as Oregon.
Educational campaigns will likely be very beneficial to Pittsburgh. Currently,
Pennsylvania Resources Council, Clean Pittsburgh Commission, and the Pittsburgh Downtown
Partnership are working on educational campaigns with the support of Keep America Beautiful.
These campaigns, when combined with an increase in the number of available public ashtrays
and fines could effectively address Pittsburgh’s cigarette litter problem and help reduce the
number of littered cigarette butts greatly.
Distribution of portable ashtrays as part of educational campaigns could be extremely
useful in reducing cigarette litter in Pittsburgh, especially in areas such as the South Side, where
installation of ashtrays has only reduced cigarette litter by about 25-50%. Studies need to be
conducted throughout the city to determine if smokers would be open to the use of portable
ashtrays in order to determine their effectiveness at preventing littered cigarette butts.
Recycling of cigarette butts for use in industrial processes is promising; especially in a
city that still has some connections to the steel industry. Pittsburgh also has many steel products,
including bridges and buildings that could potentially benefit from increased resistance to
corrosion. A cigarette butt cleanup and collection system would need to be implemented to
ensure that cigarette butts are being recycled by the industry sector and to reduce the
environmental burden caused by littered cigarettes. However, no such system is in place on a
mass scale, and Pittsburgh would be the first to implement such a recycling system, which could
prove difficult. Further investigation needs to be undertaken to determine the effectiveness of
such a recycling system in the city of Pittsburgh and to determine associated costs. Determining
who would carry the burden of the cost of such a program (industry, consumers, city, nonprofits,
The Big Butt Problem 32
etc.) would prove quite difficult, especially since the end product of smokers is an input for
industry. Determining a fair-sharing cost mechanism would be necessary to reduce opposition to
cost increases and provide an incentive for the city to implement such a recycling program.
While reducing cigarette litter and its environmental effects in Pittsburgh may prove to be
a daunting task, it is one which would have many benefits. Adequately addressing the cigarette
litter problem in Pittsburgh is another important step that needs to be taken to make the city of
Pittsburgh more livable.
The author wishes to thank Pennsylvania Resources Council for their cigarette litter and
ash tray effectiveness data, ALCOSAN for their information regarding the treatment of cigarette
butts as floatables in the sanitary system, and Boris Weinstein for his statistics about the number
of smokers in Pittsburgh.
The Big Butt Problem 33
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The Big Butt Problem 36
§ 601.11 LITTERING AND DUMPING.
(a) No person shall cause any waste paper, sweepings, ashes, household waste, glass, metal,
refuse or rubbish, or any dangerous or detrimental substance into or upon any street, sidewalk
or other public place, or into any gutter, sewer or onto any vacant lot or the private premise of
another or into the waters in the city.
(b) No person who is the owner or operator, or agent of either, of a trash, garbage or debris
collection vehicle, including private automobiles and small trucks, or other type of vehicles used
to collect or transport trash, garbage or other debris, shall knowingly cause to be deposited or
deposit the vehicle's load or any part thereof upon any road, street, highway, alley or railroad
right-of-way, or upon the land of another or into any water in the city.
(c) No person shall knowingly dump or cause the dumping of any hazardous waste or
materials, as defined and/or numbered by the State Department of Environmental Resources
and the United States Environmental Protection Agency, onto any public place, vacant lot or any
(d) All banking operations and other businesses that own or operate automated teller
machines (ATM's) and/or device(s) that dispense paper into the public right-of-way shall supply
a trash receptacle no greater than two (2) feet away from said ATM(s). All bank operations and
businesses currently operating an ATM and other covered devices at the time of the passing of
this legislation shall have nine (9) months to install trash receptacles, before the penalties listed
in section 601.14 subsection (d) begin to take effect.
(e) The Director of the Department of Public Works shall be empowered to review and to
determine the appropriateness of installed trash receptacles.
(Ord. 25-1991, eff. 7-15-91; Ord. 8-2002, § 1, eff. 4-2-02)
§ 601.14 VIOLATION AND PENALTY.
(a) Any person violating any provision of this Chapter, unless otherwise specified in this
section shall be fined a minimum of fifteen dollars ($15.00) plus court costs for an initial violation
and up to five hundred dollars ($500.00) plus court costs for each additional violation.
(b) Any person violating § 601.13 shall be fined up to one thousand dollars ($1,000.00) plus
court costs. Each day the condition continues shall constitute a separate offense.
(c) Any owner of a multi-family dwelling six (6) units or larger or any commercial, institutional or
municipal establishment violating § 601.11(a) shall be fined a minimum of one hundred dollars
($100.00) plus court costs for an initial violation and a maximum of five hundred dollars
($500.00) plus court costs for each additional violation. Each day such condition continues shall
constitute a separate offense. Any person, firm or corporation violating § 601.11(b) or (c) shall
be fined a minimum of five hundred dollars ($500.00) plus court costs and a maximum of five
thousand dollars ($5,000.00) plus costs or a minimum of one thousand dollars ($1,000.00) plus
court costs and a maximum of ten thousand dollars ($10,000.00) plus court costs for
(d) All banking operations and other businesses found in violation of section 601.11 subsection
(d) will be fined up to one hundred dollars ($100.00) plus court costs.
(Ord. 25-1991, eff. 7-15-91; Am. Ord. 30-1994, eff. 12-16-94; Ord. 8-2002, § 1, eff. 4-2-02)
Source: Pittsburgh Municipal Code. Ch 601§ 11, 14 (2002)
The Big Butt Problem 37
Appendix B Source: PA Clean Ways Inc., 2004