Adding up the Un-Thinkables

August 1, 2006 | Dan Harrison

The unthinkables I posit are the moments in your day when you may not fully think about the impacts of your actions. Perhaps not recycling a pop can is one of your unthinkables, or maybe flicking a cigarette butt on the beach? But what becomes of these unthinkables adding up along our shores and in our rainforests?

Since 1998, cigarette butts have held the deplorable distinction as the most abundant marine debris found on the world’s beaches. The common misconception of cigarettes as biodegradable paper/tobacco packages is probably the root of this issue. Most store-bought cigarettes contain filters made with plastic fibers. These filters, which are the discarded piece of the cigarette, can take over five years to break down in the natural environment. Whether a cigarette butt is discarded on the beach, in the rainforest or in your backyard, it can have enormous negative impacts on the wildlife of the area.

A few years ago, when scientists encountered a dead sea turtle and were confused about how it died, they performed an autopsy. The autopsy indicated that the turtle had starved to death after it couldn’t digest the 2000 cigarette butts found in its stomach! Having confused the cigarette butts with food, the turtle was left with an unthinkable ending.

Starting August 1st, the Raincoast Interpretive Centre will be distributing empty film canisters to local cigarette vendors for smokers to carry with them in order to collect their butts. The canisters, labeled “Get Your Butts in Here ” are free and are a simple way to minimize unthinkable impacts. The lid of each canister is reinforced with grip tape on the underside so cigarettes can be extinguished without melting the plastic. Thank you for being responsible for your butts.

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