I have developed a strange habit, when I see people with a disposable product down by the beach I sometimes stop and watch them, waiting to see if they litter the item or whether they responsibly take it away with them. Most of the time my watching and waiting is in vain and they ‘do the right thing’ but sometimes…sometimes I am called to action. Today was one of those days.
Checking the surf at Blue Bay today I watched an old timer suck the last puff from his cigarette and flick it onto the grass 10m from the beach. For any of you who know Blue Bay you’ll know that this particular ‘patch’ is a social space where young and old check the surf, share stories and catch up for regular arvo brews. It’s as such a cigarette butt minefield. I asked old timer if he always flicks away his butts to which he replied bluntly, “Yeah”. I said to old timer that “That’s a shame because cigarette butts don’t dissolve in the sea and I find myself always picking up the filthy things and I’m not even a smoker!” He muttered something before collecting his board and entering the sea.
Disappointed more than anything I picked up his butt and a few more and thought about what chance we have to motivate our youth to ‘do the right thing’ when old timers behave like that. Moments later I decided that I had to resolve this small challenge, so despite the mushy 1 footers rolling through the Bay, I suited up and went to finish the conversation. I paddled up to old timer and politely asked him if he would consider changing his ways and putting his butts in the bin (after all there was 2 bins within 5m from where he flicked his butt). Old timer immediately arched up and said, “If you like picking them up so much why don’t you just do it!” I said that I really shouldn’t have to to which he replied, “Mate, if I wanted to be preached to today I would have gone to church!” (being Sunday I thought that was a pretty good reply but had one more in the bag). I replied with a doozie, “Well, this is my temple and I don’t appreciate cigarette butts in it!”
In my composed voice I reiterated how disappointed I was to see surfers not respecting the ocean and that we should be the ones caring and doing everything we can to keep our break clean. You could see his mind ticking away despite him wanting to end this sacrilegious conversation as quickly as possible and he muttered, “You’ve got a point, I’ll think about it.”
“I’ll think about it” is hardly a win but it was enough to make me smile and leave him alone for the rest of the surf. There’s some ‘old dogs’ out there that are going to be hard to teach new tricks but I’m not asking him to do a backflip or beg for a Schmacko, I just want him to put his cigarette butts in the bin and maybe, just maybe ask his mates to do the same. I hope you’ll join me.
This post is dedicated to someone who knows cigarette butts better than anyone… Danielle Richardet runs a page called It Starts With Me (view the great blog here) and with her family has spent every day for the last year and a half cleaning her beach, Wrightsville Beach in North Carolina. During that time she has collected 38, 000 cigarette butts. That’s a lot of old timers doing a lot of flicking. Now she’s taking action with the Surfrider Foundation‘s support and asking her local government to ban smoking on the stretch of beach. If you live in the states please fill in the online letter to the Mayor. If you don’t live in the states, kindly ask anyone you see littering their butts to please stop doing it. And then ask them to do a backflip.
This brings me directly to the brand new campaign film my organisation Take 3 has just released. Today it was me fishing cigarette butts from the sand just like Danielle…what will future generations be fishing from the sea? This film asks the question..