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  • Writer's pictureOnline Journalist

This summer, keep your butt off Cork beaches!

Irish environmental charity Clean Coasts warns people about the impact of smoking related litter on marine environment and wildlife, and are asking smokers to dispose of their butts correctly. May 31st is World No Tobacco Day, a day in which the World Health Organisation highlight the harmful impact tobacco has on human health and our environment. Tobacco growing, manufacturing and use poison our water, soil, beaches and city streets with chemicals, toxic waste, cigarette butts, including microplastics, and e-cigarette waste. On June 1st, Ireland’s bathing season starts, and Clean Coasts are launching a campaign asking people to dispose of their smoking related litter correctly to protect our environment and marine life.

Ireland has amazing beaches and coastal landscapes, including 94 Blue Flag and 65 Green Coast Award sites, and everybody can play a key role in protecting them. [see more in the editor’s notes] In Ireland, cigarette butts are the most common item found on Ireland’s beaches and they account to for almost 50% of all discarded waste in the country. For the past several years, cigarette butts have been the top litter item found on Irish beaches during the Big Beach Clean, our end of bathing season call to action sponsored by Irish business Cully and Sully.

Cigarette butts and filters are often assumed to be biodegradable, but in fact, one cigarette butt might take over a decade to decompose. Cigarette filters are made of a plastic called cellulose acetate, which does not biodegrade and can remain in the environment for very long periods of time in the form of microplastics. Globally littered cigarette butts amount to an estimated 0.3 million tons of microfibres released per year.

When ingested, the hazardous chemicals in microplastics cause long-term mortality in marine life, including birds, fish, mammals, plants and reptiles.

According to research, just one cigarette butt per litre of water leaches enough toxins to kill half the freshwater or saltwater fish exposed to it.

In addition to cigarette butts, volunteers hosting clean-ups have noticed that incorrectly discarded vapes are also increasing. Vapes are made of materials such as plastic, rubber and metal that don’t break down naturally, and 1.3 million single-use vapes are thrown away every week. Clean Coasts are highlighting the work of community groups to tackle smoking litter on their local beach, and hope to inspire other groups and communities to take action in their local community. Two such groups that worked to create awareness locally about smoking related litter are Bettystown Tidy Towns in Co. Meath, and Keep Our Beaches Clean in Louisburgh, Co. Mayo. These community groups took the time to raise awareness within their communities about the impact smoking related litter and why it should be disposed of correctly, with pilot projects that entailed the installation of cigarette bins and informational stickers in key spots in their local area. Kirsty MacKenzie, a member of Bettystown Tidy Towns commented: “Bettystown Tidy Towns made the decision to use the Clean Coasts grant to purchase cigarette butt bins after feedback from our volunteers. We regularly litter pick around the village and cigarette butts are one of the most commonly reported litter item that we find. There are several streams running through Bettystown and we are very conscious of trying to stop litter of all kinds from reaching the sea. We decided to install cigarette butt bins at specific points around the village where our volunteers have reported significant issues with cigarette litter. We are pleased to say that we have seen a reduction in cigarette litter in the village since the installation of the bins and we will continue to promote their use.” Louise Hastings, from Keep Our Beaches Clean, commented: “We were having a big issue with butts being thrown in a few areas in particular, the pier, the carpark, the toilets and some hot spots on the beach. The volunteers were spending so much time picking up the butts, it's so tedious. We decided to apply for a grant in the hope of purchasing the bins. We are hoping this solves the issue and the volunteers won't have to spend so much time breaking their backs picking them up.”

Clean Coasts are launching a campaign asking people to dispose of their smoking related litter correctly to protect our environment and marine life. In the picture: Clean Coasts Officer Olivia Jones and Keep Our Beaches Clean volunteer Mairead Staunton.

Clean Coasts released resources for people to learn more about the issue and create their own campaign. Moreover, they are inviting Clean Coasts groups and communities living in an area affected by the issue to get in touch if they would like to host a similar initiative on their local beach, by visiting their website at www.cleancoasts.org.

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