At the Bird Island Lookout in Marpi, on the left side of the stairs, next to a colorful trash bin, is a designated smoking area with a disposal bin for cigarette butts. Clearly printed on the signage is a clipart of a cigarette, and the text “Pls dispose properly.”
In the bin, a creatively recycled blue mineral water bottle cut in half, sponsored by the Marianas Visitors Authority, Saipan Adventure, and Parks and Recreation, were about 35 cigarette butts, tucked in safe, with less of a chance to get to the shores.
At last month’s International Coastal Cleanup, cigarette butts were the most collected trash here in the CNMI, as well as in the rest of the United States. Almost 10,000 cigarette butts were collectively picked up all over the shores of Saipan, Rota, and Tinian.
In a San Diego State University-Graduate School of Public Health study on Tobacco Product Waste, agricultural chemicals (pesticides) have been found to be present in cigarette smokes, as well as other toxic compounds, which could be retained by filters and tobacco remnants in discarded cigarette butts.
Discarded filters may retain many of the compounds, which may leach into the environment and transferred to aquatic organisms, and could bioaccumulate in the human food chain.
What does this mean? Basically, toxic compounds from cigarettes end up in the waters, sink and settle in the sediment, get eaten by small aquatic creatures which are then eaten by small fish, which are eaten by medium-sized fish, which are then eaten by large fish. These larger, predator, longer-living fish are likely to have more chemicals in their bodies.
And who eats these large fish? We do.
All around the world, over 4 million cigarette butts were collected during the International Cleanup—that is just one day of collecting wastes. Imagine how much more cigarette butts are out there, potentially poisoning our shores, waiting to be collected.
Can’t find a bin? Pocket the butt
While there are bills pending right now at the CNMI Legislature on the phase out of single-use plastics (9th most collected waste in the CNMI) and styrofoam packaging (10th most collected trash within the United States), there is none on the management and disposal specifically for cigarette butts.
Environmental specialist Marlyn C. Naputi, of the Toxic Waste Management Branch of the Bureau of Environmental and Coastal Quality, however, emphasizes that while unfortunately, there is no law yet made specifically for cigarette butts, the Litter Control Act of 1989 pretty much applies to any disposal items of any nature, including cigarette butts.
“Of course, if I can tell everyone to stop smoking, I would, but obviously, we can’t do that… People just have to be responsible and more disciplined when it comes to littering. I know a few people who actually pocket their cigarette butts if they can’t locate a trash bin when they are done smoking, and I don’t see a problem with that.”
CNMI ICC coordinator Colleen Flores, of BECQ’s Division of Coastal Resources Management, echoes the call for everyone to be responsible, as well as for a change in our ways, noting that the problem with cigarette butts is that although they are small, there are way too many of them.
Small but terrible not just for the environment, but for everyone’s health as well, behavioral change is needed to tackle this problem.
“Get a reusable pocket-sized ashtray (yes, that’s a thing!), properly dispose of your cigarette butts in nearby trash cans, or speak up when you see someone flicking their cigarette butts in our environment,” Flores advices.
What about other trash?
Of the 10 most-collected trash during the coastal cleanup, aside from cigarette butts, seven are plastic: bottle caps, food wrappers, bottles, cutlery, straws and stirrers, grocery bags, and other plastic bags; and two are metal or tin: beverage cans and metal bottle caps.
According to BECQ, plastic bottles (including plastic caps) and beverage cans are recyclable. This means they can be recycled in recycling facilities on island, one of which is even located at the transfer station.
“Always look for the Recycle symbol… Please keep in mind that your recyclables must be clean and dry before dropping them off. If you are unsure about your recyclables being accepted, you can always call the respected recycling facility and inquire with them first before heading down,” Naputi added.
Recyclables can be dropped off at the recycling facilities. Naputi, however, cautions everyone to verify first with the respected facility if they will accept your recyclables. “Some will accept aluminum cans and plastic bottles but might not accept metal or they might only accept scrap metal but not plastic bottles etc.”
BECQ currently lists seven (7) permitted recycling centers in the CNMI on their website, some of which offer a buyback program for certain recyclables. The recycling centers are Rising Star/Man Joint Venture (paper, plastic, aluminum, glass, steel and metal), Art Man Corporation (cardboard, aluminum, various metals), and Ericco Ent. (aluminum and steel cans, and various metals).
Triple Star (aluminum, various metals, automative lead-acid batteries, electronics), FSM Recycling (aluminum, lead-acid battery, various metals, junk vehicles and car parts), Atkins Microl Toyota (used lead-acid batteries), and Hans Corp. (used lead-acid batteries) are also included.
“As for the other trash items listed on the Top 10, they are unfortunately not recyclable… For other non-recyclables, reduction at source is the best way to go. If you can find ways to use less plastic, especially single-use plastic, that would make a difference.”
To reduce the amount of plastic we use on a daily basis, BECQ suggests switching out plastic straws, bags, and cutlery for reusable ones, bringing reusable bags for grocery shopping, or bringing your own reusable cup/flask to your favorite coffee/tea spot.
DCRM also has been implementing the Plastic-Free Marianas program, for businesses, and for those in the community who are in need of guidance on how to do away with single-use plastics at home and/or work.
“All in all, the main message we can give out to the public is to try and reduce your waste by looking for alternatives to plastics and wherever you go, please dispose of your trash properly in a public trash bin, and if you can’t find a trash bin near you, take your trash home with you… Anywhere you go, always collect your trash.”