More than 4,500 cigarette butts were picked up in under an hour from three city streets at the launch of Clean Up Cairns, a month-long series of 15 community clean up events hosted by Cairns Regional Council.
The inaugural Big Butt Hunt – hosted by No More Butts, Cairns Regional Council and Clean Up Australia – saw teams of volunteers scouring city streets for butts between Cairns Central and Cairns Esplanade.
Councillor, Amy Eden bagged hundreds of butts alongside fellow volunteers from AFL Cairns, No More Butts, James Cook University and community members.
Collected butts will be ‘fed’ to a particular species of fungus to break them down in an innovative trial to turn cigarette waste into reusable items.
“The Big Butt Hunt was the first of 15 clean ups hosted by Council and Clean Up Australia throughout September for families and the community to get involved in removing litter from their neighbourhoods, parks and waterways,” Cr Eden said.
“Clean Up Australia day is earlier in the year in most other locations, but September is the best time for us to intercept litter before the wet season rains wash it out to sea,”
“Getting involved in a clean-up in your area is a great way to get out, do good, meet your neighbours and help our environment.”
“Last year, around 200 volunteers removed 162 bags of rubbish, which was around a tonne of litter, consisting of thousands of pieces of soft plastics, food wrappers, chip packets, drink containers and, of course, cigarette butts.
“This year, we’d love to see even more people get involved.
“We are really focussing heavily cleaning up some 16km of our urban creeks and waterways and on removing cigarette butt litter from our environment.”
Community clean ups will start with Smiths Creek in Manunda and Parramatta Park this weekend (3 and 4 September), with events planned for every weekend in September throughout the region from the northern beaches to the southern suburbs.
Clean Up Australia Chair, Pip Kiernan, said cigarette butts were consistently the most-littered item in the country with almost around 8.9 billion butts dropped each year.
Ms Kiernan said the filters in most cigarettes were made of cellulose acetate, a type of plastic.
“Cigarette butts are toxic plastic pollution. When littered, we’re dumping not only that plastic, but also nicotine, heavy metals and other chemicals into the environment.
Cairns-based No More Butts founder, Shannon Mead said the group estimated that more 800,000 cigarette butts were littered in Cairns weekly, based on population and smoking data.
“There are no butts about it – these toxic nasties, which can take up to 15 years to break down, can cause significant damage to our environment,” Mr Mead said.
“Cigarette butts can be washed down the drains, there is an increased threat of marine debris and an impact on the water quality – both vital elements for the health of the Reef.”
Mr Mead said that discarded butts collected during the Big Butt Hunt and the community clean-ups would be repurposed in an Australia-first trial that uses mushrooms to turn cigarette butts into useable items like insulation bricks and ash trays.
No More Butts, through an ongoing partnership with Melbourne-based mycologist, Fungi Solutions, is introducing an Australian-first local remediation facility.
The method used by Fungi Solutions fuses the mycelium (the root network of the mushroom), with the tobacco filters and other composite materials to produce items such as insulation bricks and ash trays.