At Breathe New Hampshire’s first statewide Youth Network summit in 2009, participating youth identified an Earth Day event as an important goal for their group. Members of the Youth Advisory Board, decided to use their KIDS Consortium Green Schools mini-grant to address the problem of cigarette litter by educating youth and adults about the environmental damage done by discarding cigarette butts.
Students learned that although cigarette filters look like cotton and give the impression they will “disappear” into the soil and water, these filters actually contain toxic chemicals and very thin fibers of cellulose acetate that can take 18 months to 10 years to decompose or biodegrade.
Youth Advisory Board members, ages 12-18, worked closely with their community partner, Breathe New Hampshire, to coordinate the statewide clean-up. They put together kits for each team and provided public relations/media support and technical support.
Youth from several organizations connected with the Youth Network and participated in “Bag the Butts” Earth Day events to clean up two public parks, two school yards, Raymond’s Town Common, and the beach and surrounding area at Bear Brook State Park: Pembroke Academy Key Club; Nashua High School-South SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions); Raymond Coalition for Youth afterschool program; and the Girl Scout Green and White Mountains Troop #10504.
Students from Nashua’s SADD Group and their principal at Nashua High School-South were surprised at the number of cigarette butts collected on school property. They made the following observation: people picking up students are smoking in cars while waiting and throwing cigarettes out the window. Pembroke Academy’s Key Club shared the literature with their school nurse and health teacher. The group’s advisor stated, “This event really opened the eyes of the students on how dangerous and unhealthy all of this trash was!”
All the butts collected by the groups were turned into Breathe New Hampshire and placed in a large clear container for use as a visual tool when presenting information on tobacco and its environmental impact. Participating youth documented their projects by completing a Project Summary Sheet and submitting photos of their activity with their “Bags of Butts.”
Youth used the information that they learned to educate their peers about the dangers of tobacco products and how cigarettes can damage the environment when they are discarded.