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Warm Weather Reveals Butts

April 20, 2010

by Abbey Bull

ALBANY— Springtime is here, the weather in the Pine Hills has been quite pleasant

Cigarette litter outside Lauren Sheffel’s Myrtle Avenue apartment (Abbey Bull)

lately and pedestrians have been walking the sidewalks in greater numbers. Now that the snow has melted, however, cigarette butt litter is more visible than ever.

There’s no doubt that with city living comes vehicle and foot traffic and with this traffic, comes litter. The neighborhood and its convenient, walkable streets can sometimes be overwhelmed with trash and the problem is often blamed on the college population.

Cigarette smokers though, are solely responsible for the abundance of butts on the streets of Albany and the filters, made of cellulose-acetate, are not biodegradable.

Cigarette butts are seen scattered on the sidewalks of otherwise clean neighborhoods, poking from the grass in the parks and littered on the front lawns of properties. Why Quit’s founder John Polito wrote that worldwide, 5.6 trillion filtered cigarettes are smoked annually, with an estimated 1.7 billions pounds of cigarette butt litter.

Aside from being, essentially, garbage, the chemicals inside them including tar and toxic gases, leach into the environment.

Kevin Seamen is a 22-year-old smoker who studies computer science and communications at the University at Albany. He said in his every day life he sees the greatest number of cigarette butts on the ground outside the school’s library.

Seamen typically smokes two packs a week, more if he is partying, and said, “cigarette butts are definitely an environmental issue, and one of the most commonly ignored ones at that.” However, he admits, “I toss 100% of cigarettes I smoke in my car out the window.”

He went on to say, that cigarette butts are not an issue on the property of his Ontario Street apartment because he and his roommates usually smoke them in places other than at the apartment.

For other Pine Hills residents, cigarette butts left on the property is an issue. UAlbany senior, Lauren Scheffel, also 22, is a non-smoker who deals with unsightly butts every time she walks into her Myrtle Avenue apartment. She said she didn’t notice them as much in the winter because of the  blanket of snow, but now that it’s getting warmer she realizes just how many are there.

“It doesn’t make me happy that there are so many cigarettes all over the lawn, it reflects negatively on the tenants currently living at the residence,” said Scheffel. “The number of butts on the lawn makes the apartment look rather trashy and kind of like a dump. It’s definitely not an image I like to associate myself with.”

Scheffel rents the second floor apartment from Hamel Realty and Property Management located on Hudson Avenue. Landlord Bill Hamel does not tolerate cigarette butts left behind on his properties; a policy was put into place because of it.

“Enforcement is tedious. When the apartment is turned over and cigarette butts left, at that point, we will have a fee deducted from the security deposit,” said Hamel. Maintenance has the job of cleaning up the butts and the renters will be fined.

Scheffel was completely unaware of this fine and said, “Even though we are only renting from the landlord, I still feel like we should take some pride in where we are living and not use the front lawn as an ashtray or garbage dump.”

Chris Kollias, a firefighter and member of the Albany Fire Investigation Unit, said there aren’t any codes regarding cigarette butts. He said though, that the city’s Department of General Services does have an ordinance against littering, which covers the cigarette issue.

Danny DiLillo, assistant commissioner at the Department of General Services said the same. There aren’t any codes that specifically deal with cigarette butts.

The Littering Ordinace, under City Code 313-38, says no person shall litter in any public place within the City of Albany. It goes on to say that persons placing litter in litter receptacles shall do so in a manner which prevents the litter from being carried by the elements upon any public place or private property.

As for private properties, the owner is responsible. The ordinance says that no person shall litter on any private property within the city, whether or not the property is owned by or is within the control of such person and that the owner or person in control of any private property shall at all times maintain the property free of litter and shall prevent litter placed in litter receptacles on the property from being carried by the elements upon any public place or private property.

Catching people who toss their butts is obviously a difficult process. Unlike bigger and more noticeable pieces of garbage, cigarette butts nestle themselves in the grass and along the curb; they stay hidden until closer inspection.

Seamen said, “It would be too difficult to effectively reprimand people for throwing cigarette butts on the ground, many smokers do so say, 20 plus times a day and that makes up a considerable amount of the American population.”

He feels throwing cigarette butts on the ground is more acceptable in some places than others. He said they should never be thrown on the ground where they don’t belong, in places of beauty, but as for other areas, it’s kind of okay. Many smokers have this same attitude, which doesn’t help the problem.

A simple solution (Abbey Bull)

If fines and codes are failing to stop the littering of butts, other actions could be taken. Places like California are figuring these actions out.The Los Angeles Times reported on March 4 that the assembly passed Senate Bill 4 that banned smoking on state beaches and in most public parks. If smokers cannot responsibly dispose of their waste, they won’t be allowed to smoke.

“I feel that people should receive the same fines that apply to littering elsewhere, like on the highway where fines range from $200-500,” said Sheffel.

At the end of the day, cigarette butts are garbage and they don’t belong anywhere other than the trash.

“Smokers should be responsible to pick up after themselves. Like everything else, it is up to each individual to handle their responsibilities. Otherwise, it will continue to be a problem,” said Hamel.  -30-

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