Policy Highlight: The Widespread Impacts of Cigarette Butt Littering on Local Governments and the Development Community


Cigarette Butt Littering has widespread negative impacts beyond the damaging environmental effects. Local governments throughout Georgia have crafted and implemented varying policies concerning cigarette butt littering. However, many critics contend that the existing policies fail to adequately establish a clear and effective framework for tackling this issue.  Considering the impact that littering has across municipal and county lines, developing uniform policies through state legislation would not only eliminate confusion but also achieve homogeneity assisting in the achievement of this goal.

Local governments and developers have carried the burden of the cleaning and maintenance associated with cigarette butt littering. For example, one San Francisco Public Works study conducted an audit of the economic impact that tobacco product littering had on the overall city budget. That study found that tobacco product litter cost the city $7,487,916. Hugh Cooper, Executive Vice President of Russell Landscape told the Council, “litter of all kinds can negatively effect our business, but cigarette butts increase the problem by 10 fold.  We will spend about 2 hours per week at every on/off ramp of the Cumberland CID picking up cigarette butts . . . For instance, many times when we mow, there are small unseen cigarette butts that get run over which results in countless white particle explosions everywhere. When this occurs, we to have vacuum the grass.”

One of the most impactful ways to eliminate cigarette butt waste is education. As the Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights explains “contrary to popular belief, cigarette butts are not biodegradable . . .  and are both unsightly and unhealthy”. Indeed, a majority of cigarette smokers do not consider tossing cigarette butts to be littering. As such, implementing advertising campaigns that address such misconceptions would significantly impact public opinion on these matters.

States have employed varying legislative frameworks in addressing the issue of cigarette butt littering. CLICK HERE for a more extensive discussion of those state policies.

The Council is advocating that a course of action would be to develop a statewide litter prevention program plan. Developers and local governments alike would substantially benefit from a uniform, clear, and concise program. Ultimately, a more cohesive state policy will result in enhanced outcomes for all aspects of the development community.