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Cigarette Butts Study

Dr. Gabriel Garcia (Health Sciences) | Dr. Joy Chavez Mapaye (Journalism & Communication) | Neelou Tabatabai (Health Sciences)

Background

  • The cigarette butt is one of the most burdensome items littered on college campuses due to its contribution of toxic and non-biodegradable waste to the environment.
  • No formal research yet exists on the number and location of cigarette butts litter at the University of Alaska Anchorage.
  • With the University of Alaska system adopting a smoke/tobacco-free policy
    December 2015, a baseline measure of the number of cigarette butts litter pre-policy implementation is important in order to later assess if there is a significant change in cigarette butts litter post-policy implementation.

Purpose

The purpose of this study is to assess the number and location of cigarette butts litter at the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) main campus prior to the implementation of the new smoke/tobacco-free policy.

Methods

  • On April 22, 2015, UAA held its Earth Day campus litter clean-up event.
  • In addition to picking up other litter on campus, volunteers at the event were asked to count the number of cigarette butts litter they picked up and where the butts were located.
  • All volunteers were given a flier at the event detailing the study. Volunteers also recorded the data they collected on the flier.
  • The campus litter clean-up event lasted approximately 2.5 hours.

Results

A total of 31 volunteers recorded data on cigarette butts litter at the UAA main campus, covering seven major locations or zones (see Table 1).

Table 1. Cigarette butts count and location

A total of 31 volunteers participated; some volunteers picked up cigarette butts in two different zones.
Zone Cigarette Butts Count Percent Number of Volunteers
1 1375 25.3% 10
2 709 13.0% 6
3 1523 28.0% 9
4 467 8.6% 5
5 753 13.8% 2
6 218 4.0% 2
7 376 6.9% 1
  5421 100% 35

Conclusions

A total of 5,421 cigarette butts were picked up on the main UAA campus. This translates to about 2,168 cigarette butts picked up in one hour in approximately a 0.60 square mile radius, with each volunteer picking up about 175 cigarette butts per hour.  In terms of the location of the cigarette butts litter, most were found in the east central campus area, west campus area, and the Alaska Airlines Center area. The amount of cigarette butts litter recorded in this study may be an underestimate of the actual number. According to some volunteers, they stopped counting the number of cigarette butts once they reached 100 due to counting fatigue. Moreover, this year, the lack of snow and the early spring weather allowed UAA maintenance to clean up around campus more often, thereby decreasing the actual number of cigarette butts litter encountered on campus on a typical day. Also, not all areas on the UAA main campus were covered by the volunteers. In particular, the University Lake Building, Diplomacy Building, and University Center were areas not included in this study. Finally, the number of volunteers was not proportion to the size of the area they picked up litter. The more volunteers in the area, the greater number of cigarette butts litter encountered.

View the Cigarette Butts Study Results pdf.