Posted by: martinworster | April 24, 2010


I’m a member of Surfrider – an American version of the Cornish based Surfers Against Sewage. It’s a non-for-profit environmental group tasked with preserving the coastline and ocean. As part of the membership you get a t-shirt which you can smugly wear, broadcasting your green credentials to those around you. 

One of their recent campaigns targeted the problem of cigarette butts on the beach and in the water. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for butt free clear sea (except those in G strings, ha ha). But on my frequent trips to the beach I rarely see cigarette butts. I can’t help feel that smokers are again being victimised. Smokers always seem to get blamed for everything and anything. 

Where I live the beach is particularly polluted – my condo backs onto the Santa Anna River which flows out into the ocean less than a mile away. Of course being a river it acts as a run off for a large swathe of Orange County back to it’s source somewhere in the San Gabriel mountains. We are advised not to go into the water after rain as it washes into the river which in turn flows into the sea. Surf after a storm and you might exit the water glowing – or at the very least with a nasty sore throat and ear infection.That said, it rarely rains here. In fact they call it a river but I rarely see it flowing at full tilt. 

Around where the river enters the sea the beach is really dirty. I’ve seen everything. Mostly plastic. Lots of tennis balls, bags, balloons, tyres, polystyrene, sweet wrappers, straws, plastic cup tops, I’ve even seen syringes (from diabetes users, not for drug use).  On one occasion the whole beach was littered with bamboo – tonnes of it, either washed up from some remote South Pacific atoll or debris from a now sunken cargo boat loaded with rattan. I also saw a whale washed up, not strictly litter I know. However, I have never seen a cigarette butt. Never.

How would cigarette butts end up in the sea here? Hardly anyone smokes. You’re not allowed to smoke on the beach. If cigarettes do end up in the sea, I am sure they decompose quickly (not without leaving toxins). The real problem is plastic. There’s a flotilla of plastic bigger than Texas swirling around in the mid-Pacific – not an island of cigarette butts…


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