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The Butt Stops Here

2012 March 20

I had no idea where our eighth grade study of water science would lead me this past fall: picking up cigarette butts out of street gutters, creating anti-litter advertising, and talking to the Raleigh City Council about how cigarettes are the biggest–and most hidden–form of litter in our city and state.

We learned about water properties through class discussions, guest speakers, and amazing field trips like canoeing our local Neuse River and stream testing nearby tributaries. Our quarterly project consisted of participating in the Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation’s Environmental Challenge.  In teams of 8, we formed action plan projects to solve water issues.

We talked to experts, including representatives from NC Big Sweep and Keep NC Beautiful. We learned that cigarette butts are the number one form of litter in our community.  Our environmental goal: We want cigarette smokers to dispose of their cigarette butts properly, which will result in cleaner waterways and streets.

To meet our goal, we created a grassroots campaign that would positively affect the community and get its support in the process. Our campaign reached an estimated 35,000 people on a budget of under $1000. We received free City of Raleigh advertising space, assistance from its public affairs staff, and design assistance from a local sign shop. The shop helped us create placards for every city bus and a grant from Keep NC Beautiful helped pay for them.  We also produced, filmed, and edited three free PSA commercials with the Raleigh Television Network.  We talked to City Council about adding cigarette ash receptacles on more streets in downtown Raleigh. According to Keep America Beautiful, for every ash receptacle added, the littering rate decreases by nine percent, so we know this will have a lasting impact on the community. We specifically want to add ash receptacles to bus stops, city parks, and other meeting areas around the city.

I never paid much attention to cigarette litter before the project.  I didn’t always notice it.  My shock of realization came after conducting the first survey near Raleigh’s main bus station. We found over 2500 littered cigarette butts in one day!  Cleaning them up made me realize that even small types of litter really affect the way I view a community. One project realization is the willingness of residents to make changes in communities. Our campaign was a success because of people who cared about our city.

Annie is an eighth grader at Exploris Middle School. She enjoys reading and playing the alto saxophone in the Triangle Youth Jazz Ensemble.

Exploris Middle School, is a charter school in downtown Raleigh, NC that uses integrated project-based learning and service-learning to carry out its mission to help students learn to build a “connected, just, and sustainable world.”

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

10 Responses leave one →
  1. Anthony permalink
    March 22, 2012

    Yes this is a wonderful proposal… cigarettes are bad enough but when our streets are polluted with them and other foul and disgusting things it just makes you wonder how much people really love where they live. Even with bad habits it’s not hard to clean up after your self… This needs to be spread and mandatory in states! thanks for the article

  2. Anonymous permalink
    March 23, 2012

    Thoughtful article.

  3. Anonymous permalink
    March 24, 2012

    wow … that was an interesting post .. i look forward for more of these

  4. Shonda permalink
    March 25, 2012

    It is a great initiative and needs to be spread via social websites to create a national campaign. We already know the harmful effects of smoking and second hand smoking but the additional harm to our environment and society is never discussed. This could serve as eye opener for many people. Kudos to the eight grade kids to make us aware of stuff that we usually ignore. Great information. Thanks.

  5. Anonymous permalink
    March 27, 2012

    Great job guys!!! It’s cool when teens concerned about global issues and think about the future of all human beings on the planet)

  6. JillyB permalink
    April 2, 2012

    Good job! We support your endeavor and are greatly impressed by how the 8th graders of Exploris Middle School is taking such an initiative on addressing these global issues. More power to your cause.

  7. Michael Jose permalink
    April 3, 2012

    Very Good job! It’s very impressive what 8th graders can do.

  8. andrew permalink
    April 9, 2012

    Yea, its nice that you all are taking the time out to give back.Great job.

  9. Anonymous permalink
    April 10, 2012

    Really a nice post..Thanks for sharing such a useful article

  10. Alissa Bierma, Upper Neuse Riverkeeper permalink
    April 23, 2012


    The staff at the Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation is SO proud of your group we can barely contain ourselves and talk about your frequently! You are exactly who the Environmental Challenge program was designed for and I can’t believe how you grabbed hold of this issue and ran with it. Thanks to you, our waters are safer and cleaner because of you :)


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