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Monday, March 20, 2023

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A student participates in last year's “Kick Butts off Campus” cigarette butt cleanup. A student participates in last year's “Kick Butts off Campus” cigarette butt cleanup.

Public Health Students Kick Butts Off Campus

A cigarette butt clean-up on April 21 is part of a larger effort to make SDSU campus smoke-free.

San Diego State University public health students will gather for the annual “Kick Butts off Campus” cigarette butt cleanup on at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, April 21. 

The clean-up is organized by the Cigarette Butt Pollution Project and professor Thomas Novotny in SDSU’s Graduate School of Public Health. Novotny leads a national effort to address the impact of cigarette butt waste on the environment and public health.

A global issue

“Globally, 5.5 trillion cigarette butts are consumed every year, and the vast majority of these include plastic, non-biodegradable filters,” said Novotny.  “Even if disposed into ashtrays and waste receptacles, butts end up somewhere in the environment — in storm drains that lead to streams, bays and beaches; in landfills where they may continue to leach out toxic chemicals; and into urban and campus environments where they degrade the quality of life.”

Cigarette butts consist of filters made of a non-biodegradable plastic called cellulose acetate. Research by SDSU professor Rick Gersberg and his students showed that one cigarette butt soaked in a liter of water kills half the fish that are exposed to the water.

“That finding indicates the ‘lethal concentration 50’ for cigarette butt waste which suggests there is no ‘safe’ level of environmental butt waste,” Novotny said. “It is a toxic, non-biodegradable contaminant caused by the last acceptable form of littering worldwide.”

Cigarettes and SDSU

SDSU is currently a smoking-restricted campus as smoking is only allowed in eight designated locations across campus. However, in butt cleanups conducted over the last two years, tens of thousands of butts were found scattered in SDSU gardens, walkways, and seating areas.

New state legislation has given campuses the option to enforce violations of smoking policies with fines and other disincentives.  Novotny and his team hope their efforts will encourage support for a totally smoke-free campus.

"I applaud these efforts of our faculty, staff and students," said SDSU President Elliot Hirshman.  "The long-term health and environmental effects of tobacco products are extremely damaging. It is critical to the health of our community that we continue our progress toward being a tobacco-free campus."

Tobacco Waste Toolkit

In addition to the cleanup, the Cigarette Butt Pollution Project is developing a “Tobacco Waste Toolkit” for the California Tobacco Control Program to be rolled out in June 2012.

The toolkit will help environmental and public health groups support environmental stewardship on butt waste in urban communities, on university campuses, and in parks and beaches. The project includes a social media campaign to inform the public that cigarette butts are unnecessary toxic waste products that harm the environment.

Butts continue to be the number one item picked up during beach cleanups each year, accounting for 10 percent of all collected urban waste items, said Novotny.

About the event

The “Kick Butts Off campus” clean up begins at 9:30 a.m. on April 21. Volunteers are invited to sign up online by 5 p.m. on April 19. Free t-shirts and water will be provided to volunteers, who should report to the main entrance of Hepner Hall by 9:30 a.m. 

The event will begin with a press conference featuring State Assembly Member Marty Block, who sponsored the campus smoking policy enforcement legislation.  Learn more information about "Kick Butts of Campus".