A group of ocean conservationists in British Columbia that have spent countless hours trying to keep cigarette butts out of the ocean are now putting them back in, intentionally.
But advocates with the Surfrider Foundation Pacific Rim aren’t simply dumping the butts into the ocean – they’re riding them off the coast of Vancouver Island, assembled into Canada’s first cigarette surfboard.
The group unveiled the “Dart Board” on Wednesday to mark the 30th anniversary of World Oceans Day, in a bid to raise awareness about plastic pollution in the ocean.
“Worldwide, cigarette butts are still the most common item found along our beaches,” Laurine Hannah, chapter coordinator for Surfrider Pacific Rim said.
Hannah said since 2017, the group has collected about 1.2 million cigarette butts, which are made from cellulose acetate — a non biodegradable plastic, in the Tofino area.
“That’s not very long. Each month it’s one of those large Rubbermaid containers collected each per community,” she said.
Dr. Juan Jose Alava, a research associate at institute for the ocean and fisheries, and principal investigator in ocean pollution unit at UBC, said cigarette butt waste remains a major concern for ocean health.
“Cigarette butts are probably one of the more dominant plastic items found in the beaches and coastal areas of the world, they make up more than 50 per cent of all the marine debris of plastic,” he said.
“I think we need to think about a transition … creating products other than plastic if we are going to continue our behaviour of smoking.”
Alava said a move to biodegradable materials for cigarette filters could have a major impact.
But education remains even more important, he said, adding it remains far too socially acceptable for people to simply flick their butts on the ground.
“Prevention is better than cure,” he said.
Surfrider is also advocating on both of those fronts, and has distributed 97 butt-collection cannisters between Tofino and Ucluelet as a part of its “hold onto your butts” campaign.
It is also pushing for federal regulations that would ban the use of plastic materials in cigarettes.
Hannah pointed out that cigarette filters used to be made from biodegradable materials, and that jurisdictions such as California have passed legislation requiring a shift back to that format.
“There (are) models out there and there is precedent out there, we jus haven’t really tackled it,” she said.
“The whole single-use plastic mindset, that had to be conditioned into us. Marketing conditioned that into us, that that was the way to go, so it’s really changing our social patterns to recognize this isn’t acceptable behaviour, this isn’t how it has to be and it hasn’t always been this way.”
– with files from Global News’ Kylie Stanton