Milk jugs holding collected cigarette butts.

Hold on to Your Butt Cigarette Litter Prevention Project

Surfrider Foundation San Francisco addressed the critical problem of cigarette butt litter entering the San Francisco Bay, nearby National Parks, and National Marine Sanctuaries through their “Hold on to Your Butt” program.

Type of Project: Marine Debris Prevention Grant

Region: California

Project Dates: August 2018 - December 2021

Who was involved?
With funding from the NOAA Marine Debris Program, Surfrider San Francisco partnered with the City of San Francisco, the National Park Service, and community-based social marketing specialists, to design and implement a comprehensive program to reduce cigarette butt litter in the San Francisco Bay Area.

What was the project and why was it important?
In San Francisco, cigarette butts are such a pervasive debris type that Surfrider volunteers pick up an average of 6,500 butts at every two-hour cleanup event. Littered cigarette butts can make their way into storm drains and the bay where they don’t belong.

Widespread misconceptions about cigarette litter have led to butts being the last socially acceptable form of litter. Cigarette filters are made out of a plastic-like material called cellulose acetate. The cellulose acetate fibers behave just like plastics in the marine environment. They may break into smaller pieces, but persist as microplastic debris. Surfrider San Francisco aimed to change butt-discarding behavior by increasing access to receptacles and raising awareness about the negative impacts of butt debris.

What were the project results?
The project took a two-pronged approach of 1) increased disposal options for cigarette butts and 2) targeted behavior change among smokers. Surfrider and their partners installed cigarette butt receptacles in butt debris hotspots, engaged the public through community-based and social media campaigns, distributed pocket ashtrays, monitored effectiveness through pre- and post-project cleanups, and conducted outreach surveys to assess behavior and awareness of butt debris. This project distributed 13,000 pocket ashtrays, installed over 175 butt receptacles, and conducted smoker outreach surveys to assess behavior and awareness of butt debris. The program also reached over 30,000 through a comprehensive media campaign using social media and televised public service announcements.

For more information about this project, visit the Marine Debris Program Clearinghouse.

Last updated Thu, 12/21/2023 - 06:59 pm EST