The unfortunate tenacity of the most common piece of litter

by | Dec 15, 2018

Eight years ago, in the town of Van Buren, Arkansas, newly retired resident John Pope walked six blocks and picked up 1,085 cigarette butts.

Dec. 15, 2018
By Mark Kaufman

The unsightly, unpleasant litter problem — as we’re all acutely aware — isn’t confined to Pope’s quiet community in western Arkansas. 

Cigarette butts have the proud distinction of being the most common form of litter on America’s beaches. Some 6 trillion cigarettes are manufactured on Earth each year, and between 750 million to 1,500 million pounds of cigarette butt waste — largely made of a plastic-like material called cellulose acetate — are ultimately flung to the ground annually, according to the World Health Organization.

To be fair, not all cigarettes are flung or flicked to the ground. Over a quarter of littered cigarette are stomped, while around 35 percent are “dropped with intent.” Just one percent of smokers shoot for a receptacle, but like Shaq at the free-throw line, miss.

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