Cigarette butts are the world’s most common type of marine debris, and have been documented to negatively impact biodiversity, ecosystems, human health, and the economy.
At Alexandra Beach on Australia’s Sunshine Coast, Ten Little Pieces led by Alison Foley conducted a social experiment of cigarette butt littering behaviour modification through the installation of a Cigarette Butt Voting Ballot Box (CBVBB). The area borders the Coral Sea, home to 300 endangered, threatened and vulnerable species including the endangered loggerhead turtles that nest on the region’s beaches and the humpback whales that migrate through these waters.
The research piece involved the CBVBB unit, social media efforts, the involvement of community groups, directional signage, and weekly incidental litter collections, all of which combined to modify cigarette butt littering behaviour at Alexandra Beach utilizing the NSW EPA recommended intervention aspects pertaining to cigarette butt littering behaviour modification as demonstrated in the successful Butt Free Byron Campaign.
- The availability of and proximity to appropriate disposal units
- The absence of accumulated cigarette butt debris
- The knowledge of the environmental consequences of cigarette butt littering
- The knowledge of and likely enforcement of fines.
The CBVBB was installed at a high traffic juncture and popular tourist destination – the Alexandra Headland Surf Life Saving Club, just prior to the Easter School holidays, alongside a large information board which provided data updates and informed the public of the environmental consequences of cigarette butt litter.
Directional signage was installed on all existing bins across the area, and “Vote With Your Butt” posters were also distributed to local businesses to engage the wider community in the campaign.
Over a period of 12 weeks, Alison serviced the CBVBB weekly to collect data, maintain cleanliness and change the voting question to encourage participation through a game. Data for incidental counts of cigarette butts around the location was also gathered, and all results entered into the AMDI Database.
Additional data was contributed throughout the trial period by:
- Parks and Gardens maintenance teams from Sunshine Coast Council, who conducted weekly incidental cigarette butt monitoring
- Cleanwater Group, who provided monthly counts from the Gross Pollutant Traps installed in stormwater drains within the area, facilitated by students from the Australian Industry Trade College
- EnviroCom provided historical data counts of cigarette butts from previous clean-ups in the area
- Baseline, mid-trial, and post-trial clean-ups supported by Clean Up Australia, Sea Shepherd – Sunshine Coast Marine Debris Team, Ten Little Pieces community members, local businesses, the Alexandra Headland Community Association, and the Alex Surf Club.
Throughout the trial period, Alison also undertook 72 population surveys to gather additional qualitative data around perceptions of cigarette butt litter and incentives for behaviour change.
Results showed a massive 70% reduction in incidental cigarette butt litter at the trial location throughout the trial period, with over 10,964 cigarette butts collected in total.
This is a shining example of what can happen when committed community groups and citizens come together with local council and businesses to work together towards solutions.
In her comprehensive project report, Alison makes a number of cigarette butt litter prevention recommendations, including:
- At the site of the CBVBB, invest in permanent infrastructure for the safe and appropriate disposal of cigarette butts, with adequate signage.
- Retrofit existing cigarette butt disposal units with bright colours and horizontal signage.
- The enforcement of smoking exclusion zones at the adjacent Skate Park and anti-littering laws in relevant locations.
- Installation of stencils on stormwater drains “the sea starts here, don’t litter”
- Expansion of the technology and methodology to other cigarette butt littering hotspots across the region.
- Encourage product stewardship of tobacco retailers across the region
- Education, awareness and media campaigns.
To receive a copy of Alison’s report, please email firstname.lastname@example.org