In a relatively short period of time plastic has become the most common form of garbage found in the Earth’s oceans, lakes, and other waters. Sadly, coastal residents of Great Lakes states have become quite accustomed to seeing plastic. Almost 80% of trash found on beach cleanups in the region in recent years has been identified as plastic 1. This is especially evident along the southern beaches of Lake Erie, where high population and industrial development have contributed to the plastics problem. In Ohio, the most common items found are cigarettes and other smoking related materials, including plastic cigar tips.
In total, cigar tips account for about 14% of all smoking related debris on Ohio beaches 2. These trends are especially noticeable on beaches found near Ohio’s largest coastal city, Cleveland, and its surrounding communities. Given the growing awareness of the issue, and the impact of plastics on beaches throughout the Great Lakes, my colleague with Ohio Sea Grant, Jill Bartolotta, and I convened a focus group to investigate strategies to help address the problem. The group was comprised of individuals with practical knowledge of plastic cigar tip use and disposal issues, including representatives of government agencies, nongovernmental organizations, community groups, and local academic institutions.
The first questions the group discussed centered on the WHAT, WHY, and HOW of the problem. When asked what local residents think about the topic, all agreed that people are well aware and not happy about the abundance of cigar tips found along Lake Erie’s shore. When asked why this matters, group members suggested that it affects the benefits of living in a community, like neighborhood pride and public health, as well as the social, environmental, and financial viability of local neighborhoods. This leads us to the how of the matter. How can decision makers successfully combat the problem of plastic cigar tips?
In order to figure out how to reduce the amount of cigar tips on area beaches, we first asked focus group members what prevents smokers from throwing their tips in the garbage. Responses ranged from ‘not enough smoking disposal receptacles’ to a ‘lack of receptacles in high traffic areas’ and ‘no receptacles specifically for cigar tips.’ Group members also cited social barriers, such as ‘long-term user habits,’ ‘social norms that validate use of cigars,’ and ‘difficulty reaching the population of smokers with proper disposal messaging.’
Ultimately, the group came up with a set of recommendations for helping to reduce plastic cigar tip litter in the area. Some suggestions were obvious, like ‘creating more designated smoking areas with proper disposal receptacles’ and ‘developing education and outreach on public signage.’ Others were more nuanced, like reward programs and mail in rebates, tax increases, deposit programs, and strict age enforcement by vendors. One constant among all ideas was an emphasis on positive messaging. Instead of negative campaigns that instruct people to “quit smoking,” the focus should be on education and community-based solutions. The group suggested educating people about the connection between swimming and drinking water, along with other public health issues. In the end, the most enthusiastic recommendation was to focus on neighborhood beautification and Cleveland pride. As locals will tell you, Cleveland is The Land of Champions! Not an ashtray.
- Driedger, A.G.J., Durr, H.H., Mitchell, K., and Cappellen, P.V. 2015. “Plastic Debris in the Laurentian Great Lakes: A Review.” Journal of Great Lakes Research. 41 (1): 9-19.
- Adopt a Beach Program. 2015. “Litter Report: Raw Data from Great Lakes Beach Cleanups.” Cigar tip percentage calculated by Jill Bartolotta, Ohio Sea Grant College Program and Ohio State University Extension, May 19, 2016.
Scott Hardy is an Extension Educator for the Ohio Sea Grant College Program.