top of page

I pick up cigarette butts

Author: Jon Hirsch, Lifetime adventurer and outdoor sports enthusiast. rock climber, mountaineer, mountain biker, road biker and cycle cross rider as well as cross country skier, downhill skier, trout fisherman, fly fisherman, paddler and lover of lakes, rivers, mountains and sunsets. He has completed 13 American birkebeiners, one Leadville 100, and 30 state high points.  When he is not enjoying nature he is a husband and father, and the Director of Business Development at Auer Steel & Heating Supply Co. 

cigarettes littering the ground
Unsplash - Brian Yurasits

I’ve always struggled with people who litter.

It’s kind of troubling when you’re traveling down the road and you see somebody open their window and throw something out like it doesn’t matter. The problem is, that it really does matter! I remember as a little boy in grade school reading a newsletter called the Weekly Reader. In the Reader they always talked about important human qualities like being kind, being good to the environment, and most importantly, not littering. As an adult, that message has always stuck with me. I remember that term I learned - 'litterbug'. You didn’t want to be a litterbug.

Here I am today, some 52 years later and I can’t believe how many people are litterbugs with disastrous results. 


"About 4.5 trillion cigarettes are discarded each year worldwide, making them the most littered item on Earth. Cigarette butts aren't usually recycled at the municipal level; some companies recycle them. Cigarette butts leach toxic chemicals into water, where they can remain for as long as 10 years." August 2019, National Geographic Magazine


I work in a building owned by my wife. I have a beautiful office on the second floor of our building. From my office, I can look out to the south across a beautiful city park in the town of Platteville Wisconsin. It really is a lovely place. I also have windows that face to the west. From the western windows I actually get to see the sun as it drifts across the sky as the day passes on. Something else that I get to see as I look to the west is all the people that work in the office building next to our building. It turns out, that a lot of people in the building next-door are litterbugs.

Overtime I’ve come to realize that at least three or four of them are cigarette smokers. Early on when I first began working out of the office in my wife’s building, I could not believe how many cigarette butts were strewn up on the street between our two buildings. One morning, my wife, out of frustration, went out and collected all of the cigarette butts. There must’ve been 100 of them. It was kind of shocking when we realized how many cigarette butts were strewn upon the street between our two buildings.


The Ocean Conservancy has been conducting beach clean-ups over the last 32 years and cigarette butts, nearly 60 million of them, are the single most collected pieces of trash. In fact, they are the single most littered item on the planet.

And when they enter our oceans they may kill marine life. As the cigarette is smoked, chemicals, including arsenic and pesticides are concentrated in the filter.


I wonder if the smokers even realize that flicking a cigarette butt is littering? They do it so indiscriminately and without thought, it’s almost an involuntary action. I suspect, they’ve probably been flicking their cigarette butts to the ground as long as they’ve been a smoker. I don’t know why cigarette butts and people who litter them bother me so much,  but they really do.

It’s now become my daily routine that I pull up to our building, I step out of my vehicle and I walk between our two buildings and I collect all of the cigarette butts. Then, I take them and I walk across to the adjacent building and I sit them in a nice pile on the concrete ledge leading into their building. I’ve been doing this now for months. Someone, I suspect one of the other people who use the building, perhaps even one of the smokers, must be now collecting the cigarette butts and taking them to the trash. Interestingly enough, I still find at least one cigarette butt almost every single day.


"A study led by Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, England found that a cigarette butt can cut down the germination, or development, of plants, adding to concerns about discarded cigarette remnants as an under-acknowledged, but widespread, pollutant.

Cigarette butts cut down the germination success of grass by 10% and clover by 27%, and the shoot length by 13% and 28%, respectively, according to the study, which was published in the journal Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety." Business Insider


I wish that every smoker was aware and recognized that cigarette butts are a terrible form of litter. I don’t know the data, but I suspect 1000 years from now, if a cigarette butt laid on the ground outdoors, it would probably still be a cigarette butt.

The environment matters. Even seemingly little things like throwing a cigarette butt on the ground can take a horrible toll on the environment. So, don’t be a litterbug! Perhaps, the next time you see a cigarette butt, you can be kind to the earth and pick it up and put it in the trash.


bottom of page