Posted on the 19th December 2019

This project is one of six forming part of BirdLife Overberg’s CleanMarine campaign. The background of the initial CleanMarine campaign description is at this link:

This report should be read against the background of the negative impacts that cigarette butt littering has on tourism along our coastline in general and the dangers that is holds for ocean creatures in particular as described previously. 

The statistics of the coastal litter being collected during BirdLife Overberg’s regular coastal clean-ups are forwarded to the Ocean Conservancy based in Washington. Their international research indicates that plastic shopping bags, plastic bottles, non-returnable cups and plastic straws are collected most often and are rightly dubbed “the coastal pollution BIG FOUR”. It should however be noted that year after year cigarette butts are the most commonly found form of ocean litter all around the globe. In 2014, ICC volunteers collected some 2 million cigarette butts – a huge amount, but just the tip of the iceberg. It is estimated that approximately 4.5 tonnes of the 6 tonnes cigarettes butts produced annually are littered across the globe. This problem is also well illustrated with results of the BirdLife Overberg monthly coastal clean-up campaigns as similar results are found along our shores.

The extent of the problem becomes obvious when this brief feedback from one of our reports is considered: “Elaine and I enjoyed a glass of wine at the parking area and lookout point at Bitou Street in Vermont last Saturday afternoon and were shocked to see the vast amount of cigarette butts littering the area. We went there before returning home after the coastal cleanup today and shockingly picked up more than 300 cigarette butts in an area that can accommodate a maximum of six vehicles at one time." I returned a month later and collected a further 500+ butts at the same spot. It is significant to note that more butts were collected closer to refuse containers and benches than further away from it. This tendency was confirmed during several other coastal clean-ups at other sites such as the Hermanus cliff path and the Grotto and Onrus beaches.

The initial aim of this project was to set up cigarette butt bins along our coastline and consultations in this regard were previously undertaken with Whale Coast Conservation, the Environmental Management Division Overstrand municipality and the Onrus Litter Ladies. Discussions in this regard were also undertaken with Dr Mark Brown of the Nature’s Valley Trust. We have also compared a variety of containers to collect butts. It is unfortunate that it appears as if these containers do not necessarily change littering behaviour in that we found that at public spaces more butts are collected closer to the containers than further away from it.

Some encouraging signs have however been seen during our ongoing consultations and research:
• The sterling work by the Onrus Litter Ladies shows a significant decline in the number of butts being collected in the areas where they operate. They do regular clean-ups and sometimes only concentrate on cigarette butts. They also set up small bins with catchy notices and increased numbers of butts are being cleaned from these bins. (See the image below). A significant reduction is also found at the parking areas that we regularly clean up along the Onrus and Vermont shorelines. 

• We attended a meeting facilitated by Councillor Grant Cohen with representatives of Philip Morris, a cigarette company with brands such as Marlboro and Chesterfield in their stable. The company has run very successful campaigns in Cape Town to illustrate the extent of cigarette butt littering and the implementation of similar campaigns in the Hermanus area is currently being considered.

• Positive results have been illustrated through BirdLife Overberg’s regular coastal clean-ups. There had been a significant reduction in the amount of plastic straws and pieces of fishing line compared to when we first cleaned one of our target areas in October 2017. These findings are discussed elsewhere – see the report on the project focussing on fishing line bins. On the basis of this it was decided that an alternative plan to address the problem of cigarette butt pollution will have to be developed. A detailed project proposal for an in-depth qualitative study to investigate cigarette butt littering behaviour was developed and is currently being circulated in view of possible funding. We appeal to all role players to assist in this regard.

We will continue with our efforts to search for answers in addressing this global problem in collaboration with individuals and organisations that are also concerned about it.

Butts collected by the Onrus Litter Ladies on one day
Example of a large butt bin

















Small container set up by the Onrus Litter Ladies






Butts at a bench - Image by Mark Brown



Example of international campaign poster































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