Tobacco Waste Cleanups

Also known as cigarette butt cleanups, Tobacco Waste Cleanups are a simple and relatively quick youth engagement activity.  These Cleanups are also a great way to engage large groups of young people.

Materials Needed  Litter Cleanup

  • Plastic/latex gloves and hand sanitizer
  • Pens or permanent markers
  • Gallon-size ziploc bags or paper bags
  • Optional supplies: maps marked with zones, refreshments for volunteers, camera, video camera

Procedure

  1. Choose a park, school or public area in the community where young people frequent.
  2. Determine the day and time the cleanup will be conducted. It’s best to go in the afternoon to ensure that there is tobacco waste available for pickup.
  3. Prior to the actual tobacco waste cleanup, determine what will be done with the collected waste. Consider displaying the collected tobacco waste in a clear container to bring attention to the issue, educate the community on tobacco and the environment, and to advocate for local tobacco policy.
  4. Divide the park/school/public area into sections and assign youth to different zones to efficiently clean the area. This can be done ahead of time to help the event run smoothly.
  5. Clean up should last one hour.
  6. Give each youth volunteer gloves and one bag. Ask youth to count cigarette butts as they collect them. Have youth write the number of butts collected on the bag with the marker. Total the number of butts collected.
  7. Evaluate the day of action. Consider your strengths, limitations, and weaknesses. Use results to perform next advocacy activity.

Tips and Things to Remember

  1. In addition to picking up butts, pick up other tobacco-related waste (tips from little cigars, cigarillo wrappers, e-cigarettes, packaging, etc.).
  2. It may also be good to have some youth work as observers – they will take note of how many people actively smoked (or vaped) in the park, school or public area during the clean-up.
  3. If you have extra volunteers, use the time to educate those in the park, school or public area about your work and what you’re hoping to achieve (e.g., smoke-free parks ordinance). Volunteers can also collect petition signatures, letters of support, or stories of how tobacco use at parks, schools, etc. affect them and their friends or families.
  4. This can be a great opportunity to invite local media outlets to get the word out to the community about the work your youth group is doing.

Resources

Tobacco Product Waste Reduction Toolkit from the California Tobacco Control Program and the San Diego State University Research Foundation – Cigarette Butt Pollution Project.

Sample Volunteer Instructions with Campus Map with zones marked for organizing larger cigarette butt litter campus cleanups from Toxic Butts at San Diego State University

Sample Data Collection Form for totaling collected butts from volunteers during cigarette butt litter campus cleanups from Toxic Butts at San Diego State University