By Diane Ako
KAHULUI, Maui (KHNL)- The number one cause of litter in the nation is cigarette butts. One environmentalist group estimates that problem might be getting worse in places like Hawaii, where laws prevent people from smoking at least 20 feet away from buildings. But one Maui community is doing more to keep Hawaii beautiful with a small but effective tool.
Smoker Reuben Garcia considers himself an environmentalist. Up till now, merging the two identities hasn't been easy. "I don't want to litter so what I'll do is I'll just kind of peel the cigarette and the cherry'll fall on the ground then I"ll have my butt."
He would normally stash the cigarette butt in his pocket instead of littering it. "I don't like using my ashtray in my car - it's going to smell like cigarette- so I'll put it in my pocket."
Having a pocket ashtray makes it a lot easier for him. "The pocket ashtray allows the smoker to keep the residue, the butt, and not drop it."
Jan Dapitan oversees the Hawaii headquarters for Keep America Beautiful/ Community Work Day program, a national environmentalist group. "Cigarettes have been known to be very dangerous to marine animals and the butt is the most littered item in the country."
Her group has been passing out pocket ashtrays for years. These are 2 different kinds of pocket ashtrays and Keep America Beautiful's Hawaii chapter passes out about 2500 a year. But with the new statewide smoking law it hopes to double that figure in the coming months.
"Yeah I'd use it. It's better than littering. That's straight up!" exclaims one smoker who only wants to go by Robert. The butts are not biodegradable. They're plastic, and dangerous. They trap chemicals that can leach into the soil and groundwater. "We're doing a more concerted effort to educate shopping centers, office buildings, medical buildings; places where we see people congregating to smoke," says Dapitan.
She says cigarettes make up a third of all the debris picked up during land and underwater cleanups! "If everybody would just do their part in cleaning up their own trash then that would really help."