Plastic bags, aluminium cans, thongs, bottles and plastic cutlery are among the top items picked up on Gold Coast beaches during weekly clean-ups held by various community groups. Unfortunately, there is one specific item of rubbish that has been found very regularly. During a recent clean-up by the Responsible Runners group, 274 cigarette butts were counted on a single beach.
Around Australia seven billion cigarette butts are littered each year! Cigarettes are a proven threat to human health, as well as our coastal environment. A single cigarette butt can take five years to break down during which it can cause a lot of trouble for marine life. Birds, turtles and fish often mistake cigarette butts for food which can cause digestive system blockages or poisoning from the chemicals in the butt – chemicals similar to those in your toilet cleaner, rat poison and insecticides.
Although cigarette butts are small in size they cause a lot of issues for our local beaches. You might find them dug underneath the Steroid Cycles sand or littered amongst the dunes. Not only do they create a fire hazard, beach litter and health issues, it’s just generally unpleasant to find them in your child’s sandcastle or between your toes. Butting out cigarettes in the designated smoking areas next to the beach and joining one of the many beach clean-ups organised by local community groups are great ways to express your respect for the ocean.
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Maggie Muurmans works at Griffith Centre for Coastal Management