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A UBC study reveals yet another reason to bin cigarette butts properly.
Posted on August 16, 2018
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UBC researchers analyzed data from 1,226 Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanups between 2013 and 2016 and recently announced a major discovery: 50 per cent of the waste recovered during cleanups of Vancouver and Victoria shorelines came from cigarettes. This, despite the fact that smoking on beaches has been banned in Vancouver for eight years, and in Victoria for three.

“Our huge community of Shoreline Cleanup volunteers has been contributing to Canada’s largest litter database for 25 years. We’re excited to see our volunteers’ data contributing to this important study,” says Kate Le Souef, manager of the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup.

Tsunami Debris cleanup
Kate Le Souef, manager of the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, has been cleaning shorelines for years.

The study, whose findings were widely reported in media across Canada, made great use of the Shoreline Cleanup dataset. These findings may help influence policy.

Toxins from unburnt tobacco in a single cigarette are enough to contaminate one litre of water and half the fish swimming in it.

“Local actions, complementary to the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, such as banning single-use, non-bio-degradable takeout containers on beaches, implementing trash buyback programs, and modifying waste management and recycling regulations, are proposed as mechanisms for strengthening the prevention and mitigation of coastal pollution in British Columbia,” the report says.

Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup
Just a small sample of butts collected and included in the Great Canadian Shoreline data, used by the UBC study.

Cigarette butts may look like no big deal, but in 2009, scientists at San Diego State University determined that the toxins from the unburnt tobacco in a single cigarette were enough to contaminate one litre of water and half the fish swimming in it. They found that even when the cigarette’s tobacco had been completely smoked, toxins remained.  Apart from the toxins, cigarette filters are made of non-biodegradable cellulose-acetate. So, not surprisingly, cigarettes and beaches are an unhealthy mix.

The co-author of the study, Cassandra Konecny, a master’s student in UBC’s department of zoology and Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, noted that 80-90 per cent of the litter volunteers collect every year in B.C. is plastic, but its makeup differs depending on the region.

The report found that the amount of trash per kilometre of shoreline was higher in isolated areas and in areas that had exposed shorelines. The UBC report examined waste retrieved by Shoreline Cleanup volunteers from shorelines ranging from northern B.C. to the southern Strait of Georgia. In the province’s major urban centres – Vancouver and Victoria — researchers found that almost 50 per cent of the litter collected from shorelines came from cigarettes and cigarette butts, which are made of plastic. In more remote parts of B.C., like Haida Gwaii, the litter was more likely to be plastic bottles or bags.

Sign up to lead a Shoreline Cleanup any time of year, anywhere that land connects to water, at www.shorelinecleanup.ca.

The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, presented by Loblaw Companies Limited, is one of the largest direct action conservation programs in Canada. A conservation partnership by Ocean Wise and WWF-Canada, the Shoreline Cleanup aims to promote understanding of shoreline litter issues by engaging Canadians to rehabilitate shoreline areas through cleanups. Find out more at www.shorelinecleanup.ca.


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