Tobacco Litter Pick-Up
Since 1917, Breathe California Sacramento Region has been advocating for clean air and healthy lungs through education, community involvement and creative solutions to impact policy. Thanks to our volunteers and continued financial support from the community, Breathe is one of the oldest and most active nonprofits in the Sacramento area. Our focus now is to keep our communities smoke-free, which includes smoke-free 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. Because of the risks that tobacco product waste pose to young children, animals, and the community, tobacco- waste cleanups are a tool to engage youth in advocating for policies that reduce commercial tobacco use which decreases tobacco waste.
Concerned about the impact of tobacco litter on the environment, Breathe California Sacramento Region’s Smoke-Free Sacramento project organized a Tobacco Waste Cleanup Event at the American River Parkway. Our project is working to educate the community on the issues surrounding commercial tobacco products and the impacts they have on our local parks.
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, including the American River Parkway. The American River Parkway is deemed smoke-free, but smoking is still allowed in designated picnic areas, asphalt trails and surfaces, levee and levee tops, and golf courses. There is no safe level of secondhand smoke exposure including secondhand aerosol from e-cigarettes wt, children, pets and wildlife that enjoy and live in our parks.
For context, cigarette butts are the most common toxic waste found in cleanups and can make up 37% of the total waste in California. Tobacco waste harms our parks, worksites, multi-unit housing, and our communities. When cigarette butts, e-cigarette devices, and other tobacco waste is not disposed of properly, it pollutes water, air, and land with toxic chemicals. Big Tobacco targets marginalized communities and youth which poses severe and long-term health consequences on those who smoke and those who are exposed to second-hand and third-hand smoke. It is crucial that we take a stance, with the threat to our environment with the growing e-cigarette market. E-cigarette waste is especially concerning given the single-use products made of plastics that cannot biodegrade under any circumstances and the classification of these products as both biological and hazardous waste. E-cigarette waste is also hazardous and must be processed in a different facility, and can be very harmful when disposed in our landfills. Moreover, 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. Furthermore, cigarette butts leach toxic chemicals into the environment such as arsenic, lead, and nicotine which can contaminate water and poison wildlife.
On May 20th, 15 volunteers joined Breathe Staff and the Equestrian Trail Patrol at River Bend Park to do their part in cleaning the American River Parkway. In addition to collecting all kinds of trash, volunteers kept tobacco litter in separate bags and recorded how many tobacco-related litter items they found. In under 2 hours, the 15 volunteers were able to collect 232 pieces of tobacco waste! The staggering number combined with waste collected in previous years, where volunteers collected 1,841 pieces of tobacco waste in 2021 and 733 pieces of tobacco waste in 2022, equates to 2,806 pieces of tobacco litter total. This is a wonderful feat; however, our fight against Big Tobacco is far from over. We must continue to advocate for smoke-free communities to inspire change for years to come and to use this momentum and share our progress for communities beyond the greater Sacramento area as tobacco waste remains to be the #1 most littered object in the world. Most of the collected tobacco waste included cigarette butts, cigarette 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 visually show and educate the community and decision makers on the impacts of tobacco and tobacco waste.
The purpose of the Tobacco Litter pickup is to not only collect tobacco product litter to support community education through our project, but to also help support the Equestrian Trail Patrol in their stewardship preserving the parkway by collecting litter in general. We appreciate the time that our volunteers have taken to come support us and our goals to keep our communities smoke-free. Thank you to the Equestrian Patrol and the American River Parkway Foundation for also supporting this event, as well as Supervisor Kennedy for coming out to support the third-annual Tobacco Litter Pickup Event. We hope to continue to organize tobacco waste cleanups where volunteers can join us to keep the environment and our beautiful parks like the American River Parkway smoke-free, safe, and clean for all to enjoy!
Follow us on Instagram @sacbreathe and check out the calendar on our website sacbreathe.org to learn about future events and opportunities!