February Shoreline Cleanup: Nothing Butt the Facts

Inclement weather forced the cancellation of the regularly scheduled shoreline cleanup for February. However, FLM board member Richard Harris conducted an impromptu solo effort on February 19, concentrating his efforts on picking up cigarette butts on and around the Paynetown boat ramp.

Richard estimates that he pickup up between 250-300 cigarette butts in approximately 45 minutes.

Did you know that cigarette butts are among the most littered items on earth? It is estimated that about 4.5 trillion cigarettes are discarded worldwide each year, and they make up 30-40 percent of all items collected in annual international coastal and urban cleanups.

Cigarette butts can make their way into waterways through storm drains that dump into streams and lakes. Unfortunately, they are also deposited directly into our lake by boaters, swimmers, and other visitors.

To make matters worse, cigarette butts are very slow to fully degrade. Although they look like they’re made of cotton, 98 percent of filters are made of plastic fibers. In a recent study, researchers found that after two years, only about 38% of a typical cigarette butt had decomposed.

Not only do cigarette butts stick around for a long time, they also leach toxic chemicals such as lead and arsenic into the environment, damaging wildlife that come into contact with them. A study conducted by Clean Virginia Waterways showed that a single cigarette butt deposited in two gallons of water was lethal to water fleas, a tiny crustacean found in both fresh and salt water. These toxic chemicals can work their way up the food chain into fish and birds. In addition, wildlife can mistake cigarette butts for food and accidentally ingest them, leading to toxic effects and gastrointestinal problems.

If all that is not bad enough, just seeing trash at the lake, including cigarette butts, diminishes the experience of most visitors to the lake. What can you do?First of all, if you are a smoker, PLEASE dispose of cigarette butts responsibly, wherever you are. Second, next time you visit Lake Monroe, consider taking some time to pick up litter, including cigarette butts. Keep a trash bag handy for that purpose and include a little extra time in your visit for picking up trash.

The Friends of Lake Monroe sponsors a monthly shoreline cleanup at the Paynetown State Recreation Area. The next cleanups are scheduled for March 23 and April 27. Check the Events Calendar on our webpage (Friendsoflakemonroe.org) for more information.

We ask that volunteers register for the cleanups so we can contact you in case the event needs to be cancelled or rescheduled. We welcome your participation in our monthly cleanups, and encourage you to pick up trash whenever you visit the lake.

Thanks for being a responsible visitor to Lake Monroe.