(Olive Branch) – In today’s world, we are all aware of the problems facing the environment and how to protect it. We avoid using plastic and many cities and some countries have prohibited the use of plastic bags, straws, and disposable dishes.

Photo Mitzi Stark

Microparticles of plastic, the result of plastic breakdown, have damaged the sea and the creatures who live in it. We know that car emissions, toxic chemicals, and smoke damage the environment and our own lives. Companies and institutions follow guidelines and rules over the management of such substances.

But there is one form of contamination, so small and common, visible everywhere but which we don’t seem to notice, or are too accustomed to seeing that we ignore it. Cigarette butts.

With restrictions on smoking in buildings and public places, in restaurants and bars those who smoke take their cigarettes out on the street, and without the convenience of ashtrays, the end of the cigarette is tossed in the street, the easiest way to dispose of it. And because of its small size we tend to think it is unimportant, especially when we see that others have disposed of their smokes in the same way.

Bus stops, sidewalks in front of restaurants, street corners all have a collection of cigarette butts as testimony to the thoughtlessness of smokers. The public parks may be cigarette butt free but look around the entrance. Smokers may respect the primacy of the park but leave their trash on the sidewalk at the entrance.

In a test walk around the city, we counted at least 15 cigarette butts per block, more in front of popular shops and restaurants. Rural areas too, where people gather, you find cigarette butts.

From social media

It is not just that cigarette butts are offensive to our senses. A report from NBC news states that the filters on cigarettes are the biggest source of contamination in the world, much greater than plastic straws and cups. Some of the toxics that lie beneath our feet are cellulose acetate, rayon, adhevises, nicotine, arsenic and heavy metals. Add to this the germs and microbes from the mouth end of the cigarette.

Trillions of cigarettes are manufactured each year and a big portion of these end up as street trash. Not just in costa Rica! It is a worldwide problem!

And because they are so small they escape any street cleaning method, letting the rain and wind carry them to the sewers, the rivers, and out to sea where they join the contamination of butts from around the world adding their poisons to the seas and all sea life, and eventually to ourselves.

While we worry about climate change, damage to the environment, the overuse of disposable plastic, oil spills, toxic chemicals, nuclear plants, and carbon emissions, we completely neglect cigarettes as a major source of contamination. We need to call attention to this problem, with fines for those throwing their cigarettes on the street, (security cameras can help find them), campaigns on the dangers invoked by tossing cigarette butts, providing places for the safe disposal of cigarette butts, and best of all education on not smoking.

*Olive Branch is the collective name for the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Costa Rican section (WILPF), an organization dedicated to promoting peace and justice. Contact us through mitzstar@gmail.com.