Watch your steps today on the beaches of San Diego

Topping the list for the past 14 years, cigarette butts are the number one litter on Independence Day.

Topping the list for the past 14 years, cigarette butts are the number one litter on Independence Day.

Today, July 5, marks the dirtiest day of the year for beaches. By noon, volunteers from OB Pier in Oceanside will have collected the evidence for next year’s annual beach cleanup. And they can guess what they will find.

“Incredible amounts of red and blue single-use plastic cups, food packaging waste, discarded toys and clothing,” and that’s not all, according to Surfrider Foundation, which released its annual report on beaches for 2021.

Topping the list for the past 14 years, cigarette butts are the number one litter on Independence Day. Increasingly, electronic cigarettes.

While single-use plastic food wraps are getting the most attention, plastic cigarette butts are not only the top item found at local beaches, but also during county road and neighborhood cleanups.

More than 150 beach cleanups organized by the San Diego Chapter of Surfrider were conducted in 2021, during which 2,500 volunteers removed more than 6,000 pounds of trash from county beaches.

Totals for San Diego include 22,217 cigarette butts, more than 20,000 pieces of single-use plastic tableware and accessories, and 13,712 pieces of EPS (expanded polystyrene) foam.

This compares to 2020, when Covid reigned supreme and local volunteers nevertheless counted 8,131 cigarette butts left behind among the debris of the “next morning”, as they dub the 5th.

Nationwide, 84% of all items collected for this year’s cleanup were plastic. Among these were 136,736 cigarette butts, followed by a range of plastic fragments and other items, including 11,410 plastic straws.

Discarded on streets and sidewalks, cigarette butts travel from storm drains to the ocean where they do not biodegrade in the marine environment. Instead, they slowly shatter into small pieces of plastic, releasing toxic chemicals into soil and water.

Tackling waste at source is Surfrider’s next mission. From San Diego to Oceanside, the group has helped pass local bans on a range of plastics – food utensils, bags, drink bottles, balloons, straws, styrofoam.

After backing a failed statewide bill to ban tobacco waste in 2020, the group focused on passing a local version of the ordinance in the city of San Diego.

This year, proposals have been made to ban single-use cigarette filters, e-cigarettes, vaping products and vaping pods.

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