Vermont - Green Up Day - 40th Anniversary - major culprit cigarette butts..

May 1, 2010 - Green Up Vermont is celebrating its 40th Anniversary this year. April 18, 1970 was the very first Green Up Day. Vermont's annual statewide clean-up effort is still going strong, 40 years later, and happens on the first Saturday in May.

Vermont state workers getting a head start on Green Up Day were picking up all sorts of trash. "Mostly fast food wrappers, coffee cups and beer bottles," said Ernie Patnoe, the maintenance supervisor at Vermont's Transportation Agency. But they were ignoring some of the most pervasive-- cigarette butts. "We don't pick them up," Patnoe said. "It would take forever."

According to the Cigarette Litter Prevention Program, only 10 percent of cigarette butts are properly disposed of. And the public may be surprised by who funds the program-- cigarette maker Philip Morris.

"It's as bad as throwing trash on the ground," said Polly Thibault of Milton. "It's rubbish and it's trash. Whether you're a smoker or not, it's just respecting others and respecting our environment."

Denis Delaney of Montreal quit smoking after 60 years of lighting up. He admits he would toss his butts on the ground because he didn't think of it as littering. "Cigarettes on the street, I think it's like smoking itself. It's a filthy habit," he said. "But most people who smoke don't realize they're throwing butts away. It's just like lighting up, you do it automatically."

And some figure butts will biodegrade. But according to the Cigarette Litter Prevention Program funded by Philip Morris, about 95 percent of filters are made of cellulose acetate, a form of plastic that does not quickly break down.

City residents Shelby Fraga, 23, and Anna Kovaliv, 24, spent an hour working the short block of Church Street between King and Maple streets. “I’d say about 85 percent of the stuff we pick up is old cigarettes,” Fraga said. “And they take probably about 90 percent of our time. We’re not going to be able to get through everything we’d hoped to.” The diminutive cast-offs, frayed and sun-and-rain-bleached, hold up remarkably well in the rough-and-tumble cityscape. That’s because the most common ingredient in the filter is acetate cellulose, a plastic that resists decay.

Nicotine and combustion byproducts seep into the nearest patch of soil. Kovaliv noticed “pockets” of butts and filters: favored dump-sites for smokers. She had no theory for those spots’ appeal, but noticed that sidewalks in front of many businesses appeared to be devoid of litter in general.

References: Why cigarette butts top Vermont's litter list, Kate Duffy, WCAX News, 4/29/2010; Green Up volunteers pick buckets of butts, Burklington Free Press, 5/2/2010.