By Alisha McDarris
MARTIN COUNTY -- Tobacco litter is unsightly. It accumulates in drains and gutters, it floats in rivers, it's harmful to wildlife, and Keep Martin Beautiful thinks it's time to do something about it.
The local branch of the national organization Keep America Beautiful has focused on litter prevention, recycling and community beautification projects since 1994 in an effort to keep the places we live looking good.
Every year they hand out Environmental Stewardship Awards to residents involved in green projects and organize local events for the Great American Cleanup and International Coastal Cleanup.
Those cleanups, in addition to research collected at several local parks, motivated KMB to apply for grants for a new project geared toward reducing and preventing cigarette litter.
"People aren't aware of the impact of tobacco-related litter," said Evelyn Lespinasse, program coordinator at KMB. "It's just a habit. They don't think about it harming the environment."
Litter, like cigarette butts, was the number one piece of refuse, making up roughly 25 percent of the trash collected and reported from this September's Coastal Cleanup.
So KMB installed five ash receptacles this June and July at Flagler Park and two at Mary Brogan Park to deter smokers from flicking their non-recyclable, slow degrading butts on the ground or in the water.
"It's astounding how much cigarette litter is out there. We're hoping that this will help prevent it from happening so much," Ms. Lespinasse said.
Each slender receptacle is marked with a KMB and "Don't flick it" sticker. Flagler and Mary Brogan Park were chosen because of the high amount of tobacco litter reported and now that the receptacles have been installed for a few months, follow-up scans reveal a decrease in litter. There were 177 cigarette butts found at Mary Brogan Park in June and 105 in October.
"It's showing that people are actually using the ash receptacles there," Ms. Lespinasse said. But the numbers haven't gone down enough.
She said KMB will keep reaching out to the community to educate and encourage a change in behavior. They will be at community events informing the public and handing out pocket and auto ashtrays to give smokers no excuse for littering.
"We're trying to keep our community beautiful," Ms. Lespinasse said.
KMB will continue to perform follow-up scans to make sure the amount of tobacco litter continues to drop and hopes to apply for another grant to install more receptacles at community parks.
"I think it's going to be really good for the community," Ms. Lespinasse said.