Hold on to Your Butt Cigarette Litter Prevention Project

Milk jugs holding collected cigarette butts.
Surfrider volunteers pick up an average of 6,500 butts at every two-hour cleanup event (Photo Credit: Surfrider San Francisco)

Surfrider’s Hold on to Your Butt program addresses the critical problem of cigarette butt litter. The project’s goal is to significantly reduce the amount of butt debris entering the San Francisco Bay, nearby National Parks, and National Marine Sanctuaries.

Type of Project: Marine Debris Prevention Grant

Region: California

Project Dates: August 2018 - July 2021

Who is involved?
With funding from the NOAA Marine Debris Program, Surfrider San Francisco is partnering 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 is the project and why is 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. 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 aims to change butt-discarding behavior by increasing access to receptacles and raising awareness about the negative impacts of butt debris.

The project takes a two-pronged approach of 1) increasing disposal options for cigarette butts and 2) targeted behavior change among smokers. Surfrider and their partners will install at least 175 cigarette butt receptacles in butt debris hotspots, engage the public through community-based and social media campaigns, distribute 12,000 pocket ashtrays, monitor effectiveness through pre- and post-project cleanups, and conduct smoker outreach surveys to assess behavior and awareness of butt debris.