The Butt Stops Here

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.”

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