Stop at a Tahoe beach, popular trail or parking lot after any nice day in the Basin, and you’re bound to find cigarette butts littered on the ground. They’re unavoidable. In fact, at volunteer clean-up events organized by the League to Save Lake Tahoe (the League), cigarette butts were the top collected trash item in 2018. In that year alone, volunteers picked up more than 27,600 butts!
In June of 2019, the League to Save Lake Tahoe and the Tahoe Waters Suppliers Association launched a program to combat cigarette litter. Their initiative calls for distributing an initial 250 cigarette butt collection canisters at high-use locations around Lake Tahoe. You can spot them by their Take Care Tahoe and Keep Tahoe Blue branding. The aim of the “Tahoe Cigarette Disposal Program” is to reduce toxic chemicals from littered cigarette butts leaching into the environment in order to protect wildlife, reduce litter on Lake Tahoe’s shoreline and protect Lake Tahoe’s famed water clarity.
As of December 2019, 125 cigarette cannisters have been installed at key locations, including trailheads, beaches and businesses. The cigarettes collected in the cannisters are gathered and shipped to TerraCycle, a recycling and waste reduction organization. Believe it or not, the stuff that makes up cigarette filters, a synthetic material called cellulose acetate, can be recycled and remade into useful items like shipping pallets and plastic lumber. Residual paper, tobacco and ash from the cigarettes is separated out and tuned into compost.
The program has thus far been a success, and there are plans to install more than the initial round of 250 cannisters. The League to Save Lake Tahoe, in collaboration with its partners, continue to organize volunteer community clean-up events around the Basin after popular vacation dates like Labor Day weekend, the 4th of July and Earth Day.
If you are a business owner who would like to adopt and install a canister, or if you are a concerned citizen who would like to inform the League of a hot spot where a canister would help, please email [email protected].