Great American River Parkway Clean Up Event
Our Smoke-Free Sacramento project is working to educate the community on the issues surrounding commercial tobacco products and the impacts they have on our local environment. Our focus now is to keep our communities smoke-free, which includes parks, worksites, multi-unit housing, and empowering youth to join the fight against Big Tobacco. Tobacco product litter includes cigarette butts, discarded tobacco product packages, e-cigarette waste, and smokeless tobacco cans. When cigarette butts, e-cigarette devices, and other tobacco waste is not disposed of properly, it pollutes water, air, and land with toxic chemicals. Cigarette butts are the most common toxic waste found in beach and waterway cleanups and can make up 34% of the total waste in California. Because of the risks that tobacco-product waste poses to young children, animals, and the community, tobacco waste cleanups are a great tool to engage youth in advocating for policies that reduce commercial tobacco use.
On September 23, 2023, 90 volunteers joined BREATHE staff and the Equestrian Trail Patrol at River Bend Park to help clean the American River Parkway in conjunction with the annual Great American River Clean Up. In addition to collecting all kinds of trash, volunteers recorded 743 pieces of tobacco-related litter. In previous tobacco litter pick-ups, volunteers collected 1,841 pieces of tobacco waste in 2021; 733 pieces of tobacco waste in 2022; and 232 pieces of tobacco waste in May 2023, which equates to 3,549 pieces of total tobacco litter.
In 2019, California’s state law was updated to establish state parks and beaches as smoke-free, but unfortunately that doesn’t apply to local parks. While the American River Parkway is designated smoke-free, smoking is still allowed in picnic areas, asphalt trails and surfaces, levee and levee tops, and golf courses. In last year’s clean up, a mother-daughter duo collected over 150 cigarette butts from the parking lot area at River Bend Park. This alone caused them to win the volunteers’ competition of most cigarette litter picked up during the event.
There are many environmental and public health impacts of tobacco.
- There is no safe level of secondhand smoke exposure, including secondhand aerosol from e-cigarettes, for children, pets and wildlife that enjoy and live in our parks.
- Discarded cigarette butts have been linked to large wildfires, resulting in the destruction of wildlife, vegetation, and property. Cigarette-induced fires claim hundreds of lives in California each year, not to mention the millions of dollars in property damage and impacts on air quality.
- Cigarette butts leach toxic chemicals into the environment such as arsenic, lead, and nicotine which can contaminate water and poison wildlife. The threat to our environment with the growing e-cigarette market is concerning as e-cigarette waste consists of single-use products made of plastics that cannot biodegrade and is also classified as hazardous waste, so it must be processed in a different facility.
At this year’s clean up, collected tobacco waste included cigarette butts, packaging such as cartons, cigar and cigarillo wrappers, mouth pieces, and a few pieces of electronic cigarette or vape packaging. This tobacco waste is displayed in glass jars and will be used to educate the community and decision makers on the impacts of tobacco and tobacco waste present in our Parkway. We encourage more volunteers to join in on our tobacco litter pickups to help show the effects tobacco litter has on our parks. Making a difference in your community can be fun.
One highlight from this year’s event was the five llamas brought in by the Llama Association of North America. They came prepared with trash bags strapped onto their saddle bags, which volunteers deposited their tobacco litter in. If llamas can help support the cause, you can too! We must continue to advocate for smoke-free Sacramento communities to inspire change for years to come and share our progress for communities beyond the greater Sacramento area.
Thank you to the Equestrian Patrol and the American River Parkway Foundation for organizing this event at the River Bend Park site, as well as Sacramento County Supervisor Patrick Kennedy for coming out to support our third-annual Tobacco Litter Pickup event. We appreciate the time that our volunteers have taken to collect the litter and support our goal to keep our communities smoke-free. We hope to continue to organize tobacco waste cleanups throughout the year.
Follow us on Instagram at @sacbreathe and check out the calendar on our website at sacbreathe.org to learn about future events and opportunities! If you see us tabling at community events, take a picture with us and post it on social media!