How much pollution do littered cigarette butts cause? Leaders from Tobacco-Free Roswell Park,  Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper and The Buffalo Sewer Authority joined community advocates and environmentalists at Broderick Park on August 18 to discuss the problem, as well how individuals and communities across Western New York can come together to be part of the solution.

 The problem.

766,571 metric tons of cigarette butts – the number one littered item in the world – make their way into the environm

ent each year. Locally, data from the Great Lakes Watershed Cleanup conducted by Ocean Conservancy indicates that more than 300,000 cigarette butts (35.3% of all items recovered) were collected from the Great Lakes in 2019. That makes them the number one littered item in these precious bodies of fresh water as well.

 339,716 cigarette butts were collected in the Great Lakes Water Basin  in volunteer cleanups led by the Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper staff in 2019.

Add 44,822 cigar tips plus 1,868 other

tobacco product related waste (think discarded vape pens) and the outcome is the number one form of litter in the Great Lakes. It’s also a toxic mess that harms marine life, wildlife, plant life and the lives of every citizen in Buffalo and Western New York.

“What most people don’t realize is that cigarette filters are made of a plastic called cellulose acetate,” said Andrew Hyland, PhD, chair of the department of Health Behavior at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. “When discarded, they leach nicotine and heavy metals into the environment before turning into microplastic pollution.”

Littered cigarette butts on roadways and in parks have become so common that most people have become blind to them and don’t realize where they end up and what a threat they can become to public health.

The solution: Coming together to curb tobacco waste.

Over the past year, Tobacco-Free Roswell Park, Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper and The Buffalo Sewer Authority have been working with environmental groups, as well as citizen advocates from across Western New York, to help educate the public and help prevent cigarette butt pollution. The collective group have adopted the name. “The Kick Butts Collaborative (KBC).”

KBC members from the village of Hamburg (the “Butt Kickers”) came up with a unique solution to keep village streets free of tobacco waste. Member Dave Zalikowski made a butt receptacle out of PVC pipe and hung it in a highly trafficked area outside bars and restaurants.

“I checked the bin after a month and found almost 300 butts inside,” said Zalikowski. “More people are using the bins so they don’t see litter on the streets.”

The Buffalo Sewer Authority (BSA) is encouraged by groups like the Hamburg Butt Kickers, who were recently honored with a 2021 Erie County Environmental Excellence Award. Their efforts help eliminate waste before it shows up in their water treatment facilities.

“If people are throwing cigarette butts out their car windows, eventually the rain flushes them into the sewers and they end up in our facilities,” said Alex Emmerson, supervisor at the Buffalo Sewer Authority.

Public awareness, policies to protect the environment.

Moving forward, KBC members will continue to educate communities and build awareness of the environmental dangers caused by discarded cigarette and e-cigarette related waste.


About the Kick Butts Collaborative

To help educate communities on the cigarette butt litter problem, as well as mobilize action for preventing and eliminating tobacco product waste, Tobacco-Free Roswell Park convened a larger collective in the Great Lakes basin known as the Kick Butts Collaborative (KBC). KBC includes Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper, Niagara River Greenway Commission, Buffalo Sewer Authority, Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Erie County Department of Environment and Planning, Hamburg Butt Kickers, City of Buffalo Reuse and Recycling, Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. The group catalyzes the skills and experience of each partner to empower citizen action for a cleaner, greener, butt-free community both now and for generations to come.