Study: Cigarette butts are most common type of litter on Chicago's beaches

Dive Brief:

  • A new study from Loyola University Chicago has found that cigarette butts are still the most common type of litter found at local beaches even though lakefront smoking has been banned since 2007, as reported by the Chicago Tribune.
  • The study analyzed data from cleanup efforts that occurred between April and October from 2003 to 2014. During that time, more than 57,000 pieces of litter were counted at Ohio Street Beach and nearly 42% of that was cigarette butts. This data was similar to other beaches, though food-related waste was more predominant at some locations.
  • This study also found that beaches had more litter in the fall than during the summer, a sign that municipal cleaning efforts are effective during summer months. Community groups and volunteers have been holding events to keep the beaches clean and catalog data on litter for 25 years.

Dive Insight:

These results follow the recent news of a Rochester Institute of Technology study that found nearly 22 million pounds of plastic waste in the Great Lakes. Lake Michigan was estimated to have the highest amount of plastic and cities such as Chicago were found to be playing a role in contributing to this problem. Based on previous research about litter along Chicago's beaches on Lake Michigan, the overall amount of waste — including cigarette butts — may be decreasing, though far too much is still ending up in the water.

As noted by one of the study's co-authors, cigarette butts or food-related waste are easy to pick up and this problem should not be too difficult to solve. The Alliance for the Great Lakes and Chicago Park District launched a pilot program earlier this year where smokers could "vote" for various questions by placing their cigarette butts in special receptacles. This concept has also proven popular in Baltimore and many other cities.

TerraCycle's Cigarette Waste Recycling Program is facilitating the work in many of these cities and has reportedly processed more than 69 million tons of cigarette butt waste from thousands of locations so far. While the rate of smoking among U.S. adults continues to decline, these butts remain a small but toxic part of the waste stream that can be recycled if collected properly. 

Follow on Twitter

Filed Under: Collections & Transfer