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No Butts about it: How to Stop Trashing the Beaches?

0 Heart it! Eva De Vor 31
August 6, 2018
Eva De Vor
0 Heart it! 31

The Power of the Committed Few.

I only have to watch the underwater world through my snorkeling-mask to witness there’s so much life just a few steps away from the beach we hardly know of. I see a school of tens of little fish swim by and being moved by the waves they find refuge in the small openings of the under water rocks. Other fish dare to be curious and come close to nibble at my feet. A brownish fish that looks like a lizard swims closely to the sandy sea bottom where he’s almost invisible to the human eye. Animal life just within a distance of only a few meters from my beach towel. I can’t imagine a smoker aware of this life so close by would put his cigarette out right here and leave it behind in the sand.

Yes, another nasty and major polluter of today’s beaches is cigarette waste and it’s spoiling the beaches just as badly as plastic. Most cigarette filters are actually made of a form of plastic, called cellulose acetate which takes 18 months to 10 years to degrade.

I often try to understand why people do what they do, but this particular behavior of leaving behind their cigarette ends on beaches I cannot grasp, unless people are indifferent to their environment. Or is it unawareness? Unhappiness? Or maybe even contempt?

It isn’t a secret anymore that smoking is bad for us, yet the deadly tobacco industry is still powerful when we look at these shocking figures: worldwide, approximately 10 million cigarettes are purchased a minute, 15 billion are sold each day, and upwards of five trillion are produced and used on an annual basis. If we look at today’s beaches, we see a shockingly large part of its waste dumped in the sand.

Besides consisting of plastic, cigarette butts contain an alarming amount of toxic substances, such as nicotine, arsenic and lead that is poisonous to the inhabitants and living organisms of the sea,

As deadly as smoking is to us, its waste is at least as deadly to marine life. The beach shouldn’t be a huge ashtray which is emptied by the waves.

In today’s world this other major plastic polluter, the straw, is treated like a “persona non grata”. The thing has been damned, not welcomed, in some countries it will be banned, as we notice the warning attention it gets from the media and our earth-caring friends. So watch out! Drinking our frozen margarita’s through plastic straws will get us some unpopular looks this summer and all the summers here after. It’s un-cool. And so is using beaches as ashtrays.

As I have witnessed myself that plastic is polluting beautiful beaches I have begun to see the importance of changing my behavior when it comes to plastic consumption. Many initiatives and foundations strive to raise awareness about our plastic consumption and to start making the urgent change. In these pessimistic times this gives me hope. Especially having just read “The Most Intolerant Wins: The Dictatorship of the Small Minority” by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Here he shows us the decisive power of the committed few.

So what can we do to turn the plastic tide?


If you see trash on the beach, clean it up. Everybody can do this. Would you prefer to clean beaches together, please search for beach-cleans in your community (Google knows) or organize them yourself. There are thousands of organized beach-cleanups around the globe these days.

On 15 September 2018 we will be cleaning beaches all together as it is World Clean Up Day 2018. Check this out if you want to be part of “the biggest civic action in human history”.

Commit to avoid -single-use- plastics as much as possible.

I love the many plastic-free initiatives I see all over the internet these days. The Plastic Free July movement encourages all global citizens to critically look at our plastic use.

I only just discovered this challenge, to avoid -single use- plastics during the month July, by coincidence. Despite this great initiative that I wasn’t aware of I have started to challenge myself a little while ago by looking critically and consciously to the plastic waste I produce which can be avoided by making other choices. I have experienced toilet paper and beauty products without plastic packaging are the hardest to find until now.

It isn’t always easy to change habits, is it? If we’re willing to do this – and we really should – check out The Zero Waste Collective that helps us to stick to our commitment. Ask ourselves if we really need this plastic item in our life and check alternatives.

If you want to know how plastic harms the oceans and animal life you should watch the moving documentary “Albatross” by Chris Jordan. It broke my heart to see how we totally lost our connection with nature. It hurts to see these magical animals suffer because of our plastic needs.

There’s no doubt about it, we can’t tolerate that beaches turn into ashtrays and oceans being trashed. We’re on a destructive journey and it’s about time to change tack.

Stop trashing by the force of law.

Health warnings in combination with pictures of rotting teeth or a dying throat on the cigarette packaging are useless to prevent people from smoking. Big chance messages and graphics of the polluting effects on our environment won’t be helpful either. I believe law enforcement would be a better solution.

Put your cigarette out on the beach and leave it here? That’s 500 dollars please! I’m sorry to see we only change our behavior when it is punished by law, but it definitely works when we feel it in our wallets. We need a beach patrol or police to maintain these kind of regulations though. The same goes for other single-use plastics. Do you leave your plastic bottle behind on the beach instead of throwing it in the recycle bin? Your wallet will notice the difference. Zero tolerance.

We need new regulations to implement a “zero tolerance” policy like this. Every civilian or organization is able to file a petition which demand the authorities to make a new law which regulates this.

Banning single-use plastics and using biodegradable materials.

Traditional single-use plastic should be banned and replaced by biodegradable plastic which is less harmful to our environment. The tobacco industry should “innovate” their product and make non-toxic biodegradable filters.

The European Union has proposed to ban single-use plastics to reduce marine litter of which France is considered to be the leading front-runner. Also the UK has announced measurements to curb plastic waste.

However, let’s not wait for our governments to fight this issue. Each of us has a responsibilty, the ability to respond.

I believe these actions help us to change our habits as long as we form a critical minority and commit to our intolerance.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” 

In combination with Taleb’s reasoning that: “It suffices for an intransigent minority to reach a minutely small level, say three or four percent of the total population, for the entire population to have to submit to their preferences ”, Margaret Mead’s words resonate stronger than ever.


Eva De Vor is a Dutch writer based on the Balearic Islands (Ibiza), Spain.


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