COL Put your butts in their place

A few weeks ago, a detractor named David, who says he only skims my column because it is always so dreadful he can't bear to read it, sent me an e-mail asking when I was going to tackle a "real issue."

"I realize that you probably have many more puppy, kitty, baby farm animal, blue sky, flowers-in-the-field stories on your 'to write list'," David wrote, "and that a real issue story will have to wait, but one can only hope."

Here was his suggestion for a real issue to tackle -- cigarette butts. "Have you ever walked or driven around Rochester and watched the smokers of our city throw their cigarette butts on the ground/street/sidewalk …; Don't they know that littering is illegal?"

Well, I hate to admit to agreeing with David on anything. (He called my column last week on the "right to bare arms" pathetic. I informed him that he must have misunderstood my position on that issue because I have not and will not ever dispute any God-fearing American's constitutional right to wear a short-sleeved shirt.) But I have to agree that Detractor David is onto something where cigarette butts are concerned.

It's always baffled me that some -- certainly not all -- folks who smoke fail to consider butts trash.


They flick them out windows, off bridges and ledges. They flick them on bike paths, into rivers, and hedges. They flick them outside hospitals, bookstores, even cafes. They litter our greenspace, oh my, the malaise they cause people like me and people like Dave. What are these folks thinking; did they grow up in a cave?

Sorry, I couldn't help myself.

There is little chance, in these difficult financial times, that our city councils or state lawmakers are going to make the issue of cigarette-butt flicking a priority. But at least one other city in the country already has. The mayor of Morristown, N.J., kicked off a campaign earlier this month to rid the community of discarded butts and other litter. The city of 13,500 already has an ordinance that prohibits littering, according to an article in the local Daily Record newspaper. But city officials admit that enforcement has been pretty lax. That's changing.

Last month the city began posting notices warning of an impending crackdown. Beginning June 1, the community plans to start ticketing those who squash or toss butts or litter in any other way. Fines of up to $500 will be imposed.

I'm willing to give those who don't properly dispose of their butts the benefit of the doubt. I'm guessing many of them recycle aluminum cans, chase down wind-blown hamburger wrappers and work on adopt-a-park cleanup crews. But for some reason they don't realize they're littering when they toss a butt out their car window. Maybe they think it will dissolve in the rain, be collected and recycled into stuffing for plush toys, or eaten by geese. I don't know, but here is some information from the nonprofit Web site CigaretteLitter.Org that might help set the record straight:

Cigarette butts are not biodegradable. They're made of a plastic called cellulose acetate that takes decades to break down.

Butts are not bird food. In fact, they're a threat to wildlife. They've been found in the stomachs of a variety dead creatures as small as birds and as large as whales.

Discarded butts are a leading cause of forest and house fires.


But if you don't buy any of those reasons for properly disposing of cigarette butts, you have to agree that they look absolutely awful. I love spring flowers, but a blooming bed of tulips does nothing for me if it has to share space with a bunch of cigarette butts. And a neatly groomed playground or ballfield suddenly looks terribly disheveled when it's littered with butts. And freshly mown highway ditches …

; Sorry, David. I guess I'm starting to sound a little too "blue-sky, flowers in the field." So, I'd better stop. But you get the drift.

Greg Sellnow's columns appear Tuesdays and Saturdays. He can be reached at 285-7703 or by e-mail at

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