Cigarette Litter of Seattle

Did you know cigarettes are plastic, not paper?

This collection of data and photos is being made public through a volunteer initiative of the Seattle Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation. The program is called "Hold On To Your Butts" and is in place to educate and empower the public to responsibility dispose of cigarette butts, which are proven to leach hundreds of toxic chemicals into our waters and kill fish. UW volunteers are working to change this.

We want clean streets and beaches in Puget Sound- for us and for the fish- do you?

Change starts with us. 

Educate a smoker about the impacts of cigarette litter today, and ask them to hold on to their butts (we've got flyers about that and tons of info here). 

Ask for fire proof, leak proof public receptacles for cigarette disposal at your work place, favorite restaurants and stores (we've got those for sale).

Contact if you're ready to purchase flyers ($.50 each) or cigarette receptacles ($100 each) for your community. 

Cigarette litter at UW- can it be true?

This collection of evidence taken from the dozens of designated smoking areas at the University of Washington, Seattle campus shows that UW is not only not a smoke-free campus as many believe, but also that smokers and non-smokers are likely to be poorly educated about the impacts of litter. In fact, most people believe cigarettes are biodegradable and harmless, when they are not at all. We are advocating for appropriate signage of smoking areas with information about the environmental impact of litter and proper receptacles to keep litter from reaching Puget Sound waters.

Research question: Is the site marked with a sign showing it is a designated smoking area?

Results: Many of the designated smoking areas at the UW campus do not have a sign showing smokers that it is okay to smoke there. In fact, some even have "no smoking" signs despite the UW's website telling smokers the location is a designated smoking area. This makes it a challenge for smokers to know where it is okay to smoke and where to dispose of cigarettes.

Research question: How many littered cigarettes are there at each site? 

Results:  All but two of the designated smoking area sites that were able to be found had litter. Litter can also fluctuate depending on the season, and whether the area is swept or rain washes the litter away. The smoking areas that had zero litter were unable to be identified due to lack of signage or cigarette receptacle. This indicates receptacles are not being used properly or consistently by smokers on UW campus.

Research question: Does the designated smoking area have a cigarette receptacle?

Result: 37% of designated smoking areas inspected at UW do not currently have a cigarette receptacle provided. Of those that do have a cigarette receptacle provided, many are not appropriate receptacles to actually prevent cigarette litter or encourage proper use- for example, some are full of trash or rain water, or not emptied frequently enough so as not to overflow.

Hiding in plain site: cigarette litter at UW outside of designated smoking areas

Look at the photo below- which do you see first, the leaf litter or the cigarette litter?

We've also noticed litter on the UW campus that is not in the designated smoking areas. 

Some of these hotspots are not surprising due to the amount of time students would be spending in nearby buildings and going for a smoke break-- including covered areas near dorm entrances, behind lecture halls and libraries.

Pictured above is a site behind Odegaard library- not a designated smoking area but obviously a highly used location for smokers. This indicates that smokers may be unaware of designated smoking areas or unwilling to walk to them. 

We want UW to review the existing smoking policy to provide consistency across campus in cigarette receptacles and signage to make it easier to find and comply with designated smoking areas and proper litter disposal.

Barbara Clabots developed this comic to tell the story of cigarette litter with the graphic design support of Thad Allen . Copies available for purchase.

Get the FACTS on cigarette litter! 

The problem of cigarette butts

1. They cost Washington taxpayers. San Francisco spends $7.5 million USD in cigarette cleanup costs and lost revenue- what the City of Seattle spends is unknown. Using the $.15 per pack tax, WA Dept of Ecology spends $4 million/year picking up litter along highways.

2. They cost Washington businesses. The presence of litter not only decreases property values and attractiveness, the Seattle Chapter found that it can burden businesses whose employees have to sweep mounds of butts from doorways while on the clock.

3. They are the most littered item in the world and in Washington. An estimated 5 trillion are discarded each year, and they make up 32% of all litter in outdoor recreation areas. They are also the most littered item on Washington beaches, confirmed every year at the 2013 International Coastal Cleanup.

4. They break down into micro plastics in the ocean- they're not a paper product, though they’re designed to look like one. Filters are made of cellulose acetate- a plastic, synthetic fiber, and there is no evidence they biodegrade.

5. They harm and kill our fish and birds. Cigarette butt filters are toxic waste and proven harmful. When wet, butts leach out toxins which are proven to be lethal to fishBirds take the filters to line their nests, harming their young. 

Research compiled by Barbara Clabots, 2015. Feel free to download the document below for educational purposes.

The solution

Hold On To Your Butts—an education and action oriented initiative to promote responsible disposal and provide public receptacles for cigarette litter. In a recent survey, 97% of respondents indicated they would use a cigarette receptacle if provided one in public areas (Nicholas Schippers, 2015) and one of the most common areas for cigarette litter is actually right next to receptacles (Kiley Sullivan, 2015). This means smokers need education about the environmental impact of cigarette litter and also need proper places to dispose of cigarettes where they don't have to fear lighting trash on fire.

We can install attractive, fire proof, leak proof receptacles around Seattle, with your help. In just two years, a small volunteer team led by Barbara Clabots has accomplished hundreds of hours of outreach and installed nearly 3 dozen cigarette receptacles in Seattle on a tiny budget of donations. We could use your help, so please DONATE through our Paypal account.

Are you ready to take action on solutions to cigarette litter? Share this website, spread the news. Find us on Facebook, on Twitter @SEASurfrider, and at