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Survey: Cigarette Butts Are Most Littered Item

Group Notes Carcinogens, Metals Leech Into Ground Water
Cigarette butts in the street (file/credit: JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty Images)

Cigarette butts in the street (file/credit: JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty Images)

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Cigarette butts continue to be the number one most littered item in America, dotting beaches, roadways and city streets.

A new survey from the group Legacy – in honor of Earth Week – found that cigarettes far outnumber other items left outside as litter.

“They are the number one littered item by item count and because they do not biodegrade, we need to turn this around and we have to change the social norms. People think it’s OK to toss a cigarette out a car window or just drop it on the street and it’s not OK,” Legacy president and CEO Dr. Cheryl Healton told WCBS 880’s Wayne Cabot.

According to Legacy, there were 287 billion cigarettes sold in the U.S. in 2011, the most recent year with data available. Of those, seven billion were sold in New York.

“The problem is the filter is not biodegradable, it’s loaded up with carcinogens and metals and other toxins that are then just left to leech into the soil or the water over time. And some of those do not ever go away, especially anything that’s a metal. It simply biomagnifies, it gets worse and worse in the food chain and ultimately becomes built up in our food sources,” Healton told Cabot.

Healton said she is not surprised cigarette butts are the top littered item nationally.

“Smoking is down, that is true,” Healton said. “Of course, the population is continuing to rise so even though smoking rates are declining I’d say the tobacco industry is doing pretty well. They’re doing so well they could afford to help clean this up.”

But Healton said the tobacco industry has not lent a hand to help clean up the litter.

Earlier this month, the Clean Ocean Action environmental group conducted its annual clean-up of Jersey Shore beaches. Cigarette butts were the top littered item there, representing 14 percent of all litter collected.

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