Four new benches have been installed in Ocean City, but they represent much more than a place to sit! Made from recycled cigarette butts, these benches are part of an initiative by the Ocean City Green Team along with the Maryland Coastal Bays Program and TerraCycle to encourage cleaner streets and waterways.
The new benches, which are located on the Boardwalk and at Seacrets, include signage that reads, “put your butts on these butts,” reminding those who choose to sit down that disposing of your cigarette butts properly is paramount.
According to Keep America Beautiful, cigarette butts are still the most littered item in the nation and across the globe. Sandi Smith of the Maryland Coastal Bays Program says that the general public is simply unaware of how much of an impact one little cigarette butt can have on the environment. “7.5 liters of water can be contaminated by just one cigarette butt. People have no idea that there is a plastic component in the butts and that it can cause great harm to aquatic life.,” said Smith.
Councilmember Tony DeLuca, who heads the Green Team, said, “Littering cigarette butts and cigar tips is unsightly, costly to clean up, and harmful to waterways and wildlife. Not only are cigarettes the most picked up littered item on our beach in Ocean City, but 32 percent of litter at storm drains is tobacco products. Litter traveling through storm drains and water systems, ends up in local streams, rivers, bays, and the ocean. The Green Team’s Cigarette Litter Prevention Program, along with decades of coordinated beach clean-ups, aims to eliminate cigarette litter and these benches are a great result of our community’s efforts to keep our beaches clean.”
In just one year, the Ocean City Green Team’s Cigarette Litter Prevention Program (CLPP) has been quite a success. So far, 350,000 cigarette butts have been collected.
Butt Huts (collection devices) have been installed throughout the resort outside of businesses that are willing to commit to reducing cigarette waste. All the butts are then sent to Terracycle, the company responsible for transforming waste into usable benches. Better yet, “the litter is shipped and products are created all in the USA,” exclaimed Smith.
The progress does not stop there. Keep America Beautiful, which works to reduce cigarette litter and helps to fund the CLPP, has granted an additional $20,000 to grow the Butt Hut program, and increase messaging.
Aside from the Butt Huts, the program has also held volunteer cleanups in high traffic areas. Many of the volunteers were smokers and were moved as they realized the impact of throwing one butt onto the ground. “I had one person who was emotional after picking up cigarette litter. They said that when they roll down their car window and throw out the butt, they do not realize where it ends up. When we have held scans to determine how much trash is on the ground and smokers take part, they always ask if they can pick up the trash after. Throwing butts onto the ground is really a habit that people have to break, and I hope these benches spread the message.,” said Smith.
Once the spread of the coronavirus slows, the program will resume cleanups. Smith added that there should be an update regarding cleanups next week. CLPP is also looking to produce more radio and newspaper advertisements and even hire a part-time Butt Hut facilitator to manage the growing program.
Green initiatives like these are continuing to grow across the globe and are helping to make a substantial difference in Ocean City. “We are very thankful that the town was generous in supporting this program. We will continue to work on recycling and hope to spread the message about creating a sustainable environment.,” said Smith.