Thursday, February 20, 2014

The BUTT stops here?

One afternoon a couple of weeks ago I decided to walk to the local branch of the library. My route took me past a building that houses federal employees. I was infuriated to see dozens and dozens of cigarette butts littering not only the area around a side door, but the sidewalk and street beside the building. "Really?", I thought. "If you're not going to screen, pre-hiring, for non-smokers then put a bucket of sand or something outside for them to dispose of their butts!" I still think I'll put a nasty-gram on their door suggesting they do something to stop trashing my neighborhood, because make no mistake about, cigarette butts ARE trash. They are very slow to decompose and so lie there until they are swept into storm drains, possibly to end up in a creek nearby.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have the dubious and unhealthy distinction of being a smoker. But I find it reprehensible how many people just fling cigarette butts out the car window or drop them when they're walking down the street. And don't get me started on the people who see a red light as an opportunity to dump their ashtrays into the street! When my ashtray is full I dump it into a bag and put it in the trash. When I'm smoking outside somewhere that doesn't have a disposal bin I put the cigarette out and put the butt in my pocket or in a tissue in my bag or find a trash can nearby. I don't just throw it down on the street or in the grass.

I read recently that urban birds put cigarette butts in their nests because they have figured out (?) that doing so keeps parasites out of the nests. Well, great, that takes care of maybe one out of every million butts that hit the ground. I wonder if the people who drop butts anywhere would or do throw their candy wrappers, cups or soda cans, fast food wrappers, etc. out the window or wherever they finish with them. I hope not, though a drive around our area will prove that some do exactly that.

Roanoke County started their "The World is Not your Ashtray" program in January of this year.  Roanoke City, just this week, began its own "anti-butt" campaign.  I enthusiastically applaud both and wish them all the luck in the world in changing the thoughtless behavior that created this problem. But I'm willing to bet that a fair number of the offenders see nothing wrong with their actions and may even laugh at or resent being told differently. Unless we deputize a thousand folks to hand out citations to observed offenders how much is signage really going to do? 

Here's a thought.  Maybe instead of putting a nasty-gram on the door of the building in my neighborhood, the next time I see someone smoking outside their door I just calmly, in a friendly way, suggest they get something in which to dispose of cigarette butts or sweep them up periodically. Maybe next time you're walking or riding with someone who litters, you ask them to please not do that anymore.  I think we have a better chance for changing the behavior "one on one" than "them versus us". It's worth a shot anyway.

I'm sure the birds will adjust.