Cigarette butts and beverage containers top beach litter

provided by the Container Recycling Institute
f you're headed for the shore, you can expect to encounter more cigarette butts and beverage containers on the beach than any other littered item. According to the 1996 annual beach cleanup sponsored by the Center for Marine Conservation (CMC), the 608,759 cigarette butts collected make them the most littered item by piece count on U.S. beaches. Beverage cans and bottles were second at 380,213 containers. Another 261,920 items associated with beverage containers (e.g., bottle caps, pull tabs, six-pack rings and glass pieces) were also collected, for a total of 642,133 pieces of "beverage containers and associated goods."

However, Pat Franklin, Executive Director of the Container Recycling Institute, maintains that measuring litter by piece count is deceiving. "Measuring litter by volume provides a more accurate measure of the visual impact of litter," she said. "A can or bottle is a heck of a lot bigger than a cigarette butt, and a broken bottle is lot more treacherous."

Franklin says beverage containers are gaining ground in the battle for the most littered item on America's shorelines by piece count, too. According to CRI's analysis of CMC data, cigarette butts declined 30 percent last year, while beverage containers dropped just 4 percent. "If one butt equals one bottle, then beverage containers are the Avis of beach litter," Franklin said. "But on a volume basis, beer and soda cans and bottles hold the number one spot on the litter charts."

She noted that over 140,667 pieces of glass were collected during CMC's beach cleanup, most of which were from broken beverage bottles. "That is the kind of litter that is not only unsightly, but dangerous," she said.

Franklin maintains that beverage container litter is a rarer sight in California, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Oregon and Vermont. "In those states beer and soda cans and bottles have a deposit value ranging from 2.5 - 10 cents. The deposit value provides a disincentive to litter," she said.