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After an initial cleanup of the Croaker Road Commuter Lot earlier this year, the James City Clean County Commission went back a month later and found more than 300 cigarette butts on 20 percent of the lot.
That has prompted the commission to pick the lot as the site of an informational campaign to let the public know that cigarette butts are litter, too.
“People think that a little cigarette butt isn’t that big of a deal, but it really is,” said Dawn Oleksy, the environmental coordinator for the county. “It’s not just biodegradable, it has plastic in it. The same materials in cigarette butts are in toothbrushes and combs and pens. It’s not just going to turn into dirt.”
The commission will be on site at the lot from 5:30 to 8:30 a.m. today to hand out portable ash trays for pockets and vehicle cup holders. It has also installed four metal cigarette stations at the lot, where smokers can dispose of cigarette butts without having to throw them on the ground. A sign will be in place to raise awareness.
Oleksy said the stations were installed in areas where people tend to congregate when waiting for a ride to work. Cigarettes tend to accumulate there, though they can be found all over the lot. Sometimes, people open their car doors and dump out entire ash trays.
General Services Director John Horne said the project ties into county appearance, which is one of the five strategic initiatives County Administrator Bryan Hill focused on as the county prepared its budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
“Preventing litter, and specifically cigarette litter, is critical for making an impact on our county’s appearance,” Horne said in a news release announcing the commission’s project.
Cigarette butts are the most littered item in the U.S., constituting nearly 38 percent of all litter, according to a study by Keep America Beautiful of littering and littering behavior. That research also shows people who would not throw out garbage like cans or paper packaging might not consider discarding a cigarette butt as littering.
County grounds staff will empty the cigarette stations each month when they go to mow the grass around the lot and empty trash cans.
The project is supported by a partnership with Keep America Beautiful’s Cigarette Litter Prevention Program and askHRgreen.org. Similar projects are underway across the nation, including in Newport News, Hampton, Portsmouth, Norfolk and Virginia Beach.
The commission plans to visit the lot again in July and August to hand out ash trays and encourage smokers not to litter. In September, the commission will scan the lot and note how much cigarette waste is found. A similar scan will take place next spring, when the commission hopes to find less cigarette butts.
Oleksy said other places that have participated in the Keep America Beautiful Cigarette Litter Prevention Program have observed noticeably less cigarette litter on those follow-up scans. The commission will move on to other parts of the county next year, though precise locations have not been determined.