PHOTO: Cigarette butts

A volunteer displays a bag of discarded cigarette butts picked up outside City Hall in downtown Fredericksburg.

IN JUNE, the City of Fredericksburg announced a new initiative

to get smokers to dispose of their discarded cigarette butts in proper receptacles instead of just throwing them on the ground.

The “Please Butt In” campaign launched by the Clean and Green Commission, the Rapppahannock Regional Solid Waste Management Board (R–Board), and the Department of Parks, Recreation and Events even installed 30 new butt disposal containers in various locations, including five heavily used city parks, to make it easier for people do the right thing.

A YouTube video by the R–Board also encouraged resident volunteers to “stop and finish your activity [downtown] by putting on disposable gloves and picking up the butts you see” to keep this toxic garbage out of the Rappahannock River watershed and the bellies of local wildlife.

The video also contained a warning: “By the way, the Fredericksburg Police Department strictly enforces the littering code,” Officer Joe Young, the department’s watershed manager, pointed out. “A cigarette butt tossed on the sidewalk could cost you up to $2,500, a conviction of a Class 1 misdemeanor, lost wages, fines and court costs. That’s a pretty expensive cigarette.”

Yes, it is. So four months later, has the “Please Butt In” campaign eliminated the problem?

Hardly. The video only had 93 views to date, so most smokers haven’t seen it and probably don’t know about the hefty fine. And tossing a cigarette butt is such an ingrained habit that some people probably don’t even realize what they’re doing.

Others, though, are just careless. And although nobody should have to pick up other people’s discarded cigarette butts, it happens in Fredericksburg on a daily basis.

“I routinely pick up about 100 cig butts on my walking commute to and from the train station, along Princess Anne Street and Caroline Street in historic downtown,” one disgusted city resident told The Free Lance–Star, adding that, “The monumental efforts by conscientious organizations and individuals to beautify and maintain historic downtown as a crown jewel is grossly undermined by countless smokers who routinely drop cigarette butts on the sidewalks, curbsides, and tree wells with no consideration for the law, or respect for our historic downtown.”

Even though Americans are smoking less than ever, discarded cigarette butts remain the most commonly littered item in the U.S., according to Keep America Beautiful, which estimates that about a third of the litter going into storm drains is made up of used tobacco products. In Fredericksburg, cigarette butts routinely litter intersections, entrances to bars and other buildings, parks and trails.

City officials and local businesses are making a concerted effort to install dozens more receptacles to make it easier for smokers to properly dispose of their castoffs, but it is ultimately their responsibility to make sure that their discarded cigarette butts don’t wind up where they don’t belong.

And if they don’t, a ticket for littering may convince them otherwise.

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