HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - There's no question cigarette butt litter is harmful to our environment, and one project hopes to raise awareness along the Grand Strand. The Grand Strand Cigarette Litter Reduction Project is led by the Coastal Waccamaw Stormwater Education Consortium and its partners.
Research shows cigarette butts continue to rank among the most common types of marine debris found. The project hopes to help stop that problem by enhancing public awareness and promote proper disposal of cigarette butt litter at beach and river accesses across Horry and Georgetown counties. This project is an expansion of the Cigarette Litter Reduction Pilot Study in Folly Beach, funded by the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Marine Debris Program.
The year-long project kicked off June 2018 and is made up of three key elements: cigarette litter monitoring, public education and cigarette butt receptacle installations. Study sites include: Myrtle Beach State Park, Garden City Beach and the Wacca Wache River Landing. Coastal Waccamaw Watershed Education Programs Coordinator Lisa Swanger says cigarette butts are a pervasive, long-lasting and toxic form of marine debris.
"So, there's a few concerns surrounding cigarette butt litter, primarily first - ingestion issues with wildlife. So, let's say they mistake it for food, ingest it and leads to some health concerns - such as choking, blockage to the gut, or poisoning. Additionally, cigarette butts are made out of toxins, so heavy metals, nicotine, etc. that could seep out into our waterways and impact our water health. Additionally, cigarette butts are made of thin plastic fibers, which never fully degrade in our environment. So, when exposed to sunlight and waves, they just continually break down into smaller and smaller pieces," said Swanger.
Swanger said the project just wrapped up collecting its first data on cigarette litter monitoring. They looked at the Fourth of July holiday week, one of the busiest times of the year for the Grand Strand. Data shows 2,779 cigarette butts were collected along Myrtle Beach State Park, Garden City Beach and Wacca Wache Landing.
Right now, project leaders want to put 10 to 15 cigarette butt receptacles at beach accesses and river landings at their study sites along the Grand Strand. Swanger said volunteers and Coastal Carolina University students will help conduct monthly cigarette litter monitoring, adding that they plan to start a public education campaign soon.
"But in addition to monitoring that expansion part, we're doing a year-round public education outreach campaign. So, we'll have education flyers, social media, websites, we'll have students out there doing educational booths – so you might see us at public events or right there at the beach accesses, and we're also installing cigarette butt receptacles. We're starting at our study sites, our 3 study sites, 2 beach and 1 river. So, the Myrtle Beach State park and a quarter mile stretch of beach in Garden City as far as the Wacca Wache public river landing, with the help of Environmental Sculptures - which is a local artist - we're designing some fun cigarette butt receptacles, then we'll expand there throughout the year," said Swanger.
Swanger said they will be looking for volunteers in the future.
To learn more on how to get involved with this project, click here.