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70 Percent Decrease in Cigarette Litter Found in Surfrider and City of Virginia Beach Partnership

The Virginia Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation is celebrating data from a partnership we have helped fund with the City of Virginia Beach’s Parks and Recreation Department. The Cigarette Litter Prevention Program data shows a 72% average reduction of littered cigarette butts across more than 50 locations in Virginia Beach.

Aimee Rhodes, the Chair of the Virginia Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, said, “We are thrilled about our partnership with the City to tackle cigarette pollution in our community parks. This collaboration marks a significant step towards preserving the beauty of our natural landscapes and safeguarding our oceans from harmful litter.”

The City collected this data by counting littered cigarette butts before installing butt containers, and then counting littered butts at the same locations every few months after installation. In 2023, the City collected 22 pounds of cigarette butts from the installed canisters.

Butt Bin

“We are deeply grateful for our partnership with Surfrider and are excited to continue growing and evolving together towards a more sustainable future for our community. Providing an alternative way to recover and recycle cigarette butts significantly reduces the pollution of our natural environment. Our partnership with Surfrider continues to highlight that individuals are looking for outlets to recycle and doing what they can when provided the opportunity,” said Colin A. Jesse of Virginia Beach Parks and Recreation Department.

Cigarette butt litter is the most common type of litter in Virginia, in the USA, and in the world according to data collected by volunteers during the International Coastal Cleanup. Butts are a top item found in the Surfrider Virginia Chapter’s monthly beach cleanups. Most people are now aware of the plastic pollution crisis threatening our environment and human health, with plastic particles now found in drinking water, soil, food, and human bodies.

Cigarette butts are not only made of plastic, but also contain many toxic chemicals that leach into the environment as littered butts discarded in parking lots, along sidewalks and in street miles from the coast inevitably make their way through storm drains, creeks and rivers to the beach and the ocean. Birds and sea mammals ingest these toxic butts, misinterpreting them for food. 

Through this partnership, we are implementing strategies to effectively eliminate cigarette butt litter from our parks. This includes the installation of designated receptacles for cigarette disposal, along with educational campaigns to raise awareness about the importance of proper waste disposal and the detrimental effects of cigarette pollution on our environment.

But our efforts don't stop here. Surfrider is committed to expanding this partnership with other cities across Virginia, advocating for similar initiatives to combat cigarette pollution in parks and recreational areas statewide. Together, we can make a significant impact and pave the way for a cleaner, greener future for generations to come.

The partnership has been in place for years, and the City continues to collect data and empty the collected butts at 50+ butt canister locations. It is funded by the Virginia Surfrider Chapter, the City of Virginia Beach, and Keep America Beautiful.