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Dec. '03/Jan. '04 Articles:
The Democrats Are Coming
Editorial: Litter Butts
Over-Priced Musings
Stolen Lives
The Muddlemarch: 1
The Muddlemarch: 2
Crossing the Thames
(music reviews)

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Don't Be a Litter Butt

Why do people litter? I really don't understand it.

Or maybe I'm being naive and the answer is the obvious and oft-cited response to so much of why people do what they do: they're lazy. It would be oh-so-much easier to simply toss the cup to the ground instead of trying to find a nearby garbage pail or–are you crazy?!–take it with you until you find a proper trash receptacle.

We are polluting our country recklessly, seemingly without a care. It's not even discreet. People will litter our land with just about anything: fast-food waste, shopping bags, cardboard boxes, soda cans, you name it! The 2002 International Coastal Cleanup (an annual project of The Ocean Conservancy) collected over 4 million pieces of litter across the U.S.–and that's just the tip of the dirty iceberg.

The worst litterers, however, are smokers. If you smoke, I've already got a bone to pick with you. No, I don't care what you do to your body, but cigarettes are still tested on animals–poor little animals hooked up to machines forcing them to inhale the cancerous, deadly smoke.

That tragedy aside, smokers have, for far too long, felt that the Earth is their trashcan. They flick their butts to the ground like they have some special privilege to scar the land, sickening our waters, putting animals at risk and dirtying our surroundings.

As if the negative aesthetic impact weren't enough to get smokers to stop littering, the real health and environmental results should. The filters in cigarette butts are made from cellulose acetate, a form of non-biodegradable plastic. It takes about 15 years for a cigarette butt to break down in the environment. And the pollutants contained in the butts can affect water quality.

The discarded butts threaten wildlife and aquatic animals that mistake them for food. Swallowed filters can block their digestive tract, causing the animal to become ill or even starve. The filters also contain hazardous compounds such as cadmium, arsenic and lead, all of which can adversely affect any animal that consumes it.

According to the nonprofit organization Keep America Beautiful, 18% of all litter dropped to the ground is washed into streams, rivers, lakes and the ocean by storm water runoff. Cigarette butts are little and lightweight, making it easy for them to be carried with this runoff into our waterways.

During the 2002 International Coastal Cleanup, over 1.6 million cigarettes/butts were picked up, accounting for over 26% of all litter that was collected. And, according to a study published in the Spring 1999 issue of the journal Tobacco Control, smokers toss at least 4.5 trillion cigarette butts each year worldwide.

So, what can be done to curb this irresponsible, lazy, selfish and ignorant behavior? Speak out! When you see someone toss a butt, inform them that it's littering. Let them know that they are polluting our waters, harming animals and contributing to a problem that is out of control. While many won't care and may even take offense to you exposing their thoughtlessness, there's always the chance that you will make a difference.

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