Students help ‘kick butts’ off school grounds

Students at George Rogers Clark High School and Phoenix Academy spent a portion of their days earlier this week picking up cigarette butts, Juul pods and dip cans spread around their campuses.

The effort was part of the Clark County Health Department’s annual celebration of National Kick Butts Day, which is Wednesday. It is a national day of activism that empowers youth to “stand out, speak up and seize control against big tobacco,” Angela Bereznak, health educator at the Clark County Health Department, said.

Students collected several bags of littered tobacco products on the tobacco-free campuses, including Campbell Junior High School. The Beta Club and GRC Media Specialist Connie Cobb helped coordinate the pick up at GRC.

By getting involved in Kick Butts Day and other activities, Bereznak said, America’s youth can raise awareness about the tobacco problem, encourage peers to be tobacco-free and support practical solutions to reduce tobacco use.

Bereznak said the health department hopes to expand this event to other schools in 2020.

Erin Sliney, an AmeriCorps service volunteer, serving Clark County through AmeriCorps’ Environmental Education Leadership Corps (EELCorps) at the Greater Clark Foundation, said cigarettes are the most littered item in the world.

About 38 percent of all litter is cigarette butts, and they are hard — and gross — to pick up, she said in an email.

“Most of these littered cigarette butts end up in our waterways,” Sliney said. “When cigarette butts get wet they leach chemicals in the water that are harmful to fish and other wildlife.”

Many people also don’t realize most cigarette filters are plastic.

“When you throw your cigarette butts out the window, you’re essentially scattering small pieces of plastic into the environment,” Sliney said.

Water and sun break down the cigarettes over time, but while they appear to “go away,” the plastic becomes smaller and smaller pieces that are nearly impossible to remove from the ecosystem. People have found plastic in the stomachs of hundreds of species of wildlife, including ones that live in the deepest ocean trenches, Sliney said.

E-cigarettes are not a greener alternative to cigarettes, Sliney said, even though some companies have “misleadingly marketed” them this way.

“Although there is little research on the environmental impacts of e-cigarette manufacturing, we do know that most e-cigarettes are discarded in a matter of weeks and are made from non-biodegradable plastics and metals,” Sliney said.

Two components of e-cigarettes classify as hazardous waste: nicotine and lithium-ion batteries. Nicotine is also a poison that can pollute waterways and harm humans and wildlife who are accidentally exposed. Lithium ion batteries can explode and are one of the leading causes of recycling and garbage truck and facility fires, Sliney said.

“On Kick Butts Day, we urge you to try to stop using tobacco products for your own health, but for the health of the environment,” Sliney said.

Some alternatives to littering include:

— Throw cigarette butts away

— Keep an ashtray in the car or carry a small tin to store butts while out

— Reuse e-cigarettes when possible. Users can send used e-cigarettes to companies, like TerraCycle and Green Smoke, who recycle them.

— Don’t throw lithium-ion batteries away. Instead, take them to appropriate electronic recycling locations.