During just six recent clean-up sessions around Burleigh Headland on the Gold Coast, a small group of volunteers picked up more than 10,000 discarded cigarette butts.
Ten-thousand. And passionate Gold Coast environmentalists Caitlin Murphy and Suzette Collins say that’s simply the tip of a pollution iceberg.
Though it may seem an overwhelming task to try and tackle cigarette butt waste, Caitlin and Suzette are up for the challenge.
The passionate duo are the first to be featured as part of Healthy Land and Water‘s ‘Stemming The Tide’ campaign, an ongoing showcase of the great work being doing in the community to tackle plastic pollution.
Caitlin (pictured, on right) recently established Freedom, Empowerment and Love (FEAL), a not-for-profit organisation committed to empowering humanity and caring for the natural world.
FEAL’s first major project is Cignificant Change, an awareness and clean-up initiative focused on reducing the negative effects cigarette butts pose to our oceans and marine life.
Caitlin said cigarettes were the single biggest source of pollution on the planet, a fact that few people realised.
“What we’re trying to make people understand is that it’s not just a cigarette butt, it’s plastic and its poison,” Caitlin said.
“Cigarette butts aren’t biodegradable, they’re full of chemicals and toxins and the plastic filters take years to break down.”
“They leach chemicals into the ground, pollute our waterways, affect our water quality and they’re dangerous to children and pets who come and play in these areas,” she said.
“The negative effects are so far-reaching.”
Research by Tangaroa Blue found 21 per cent of all rubbish collected from Australian beaches since 2010 was cigarette butts.
So far, Cignificant Change clean-up efforts have centred on the coastline between North Burleigh and Burleigh Heads, an area Suzette said was a hotspot for tourists, construction, community activities and, inevitably, cigarette butt pollution.
“We’re focusing on a small area and we’re picking up tiny little things, but it’s a huge problem with devastating effects on our planet,” she said.
Suzette said FEAL would push for improved awareness signage around smoking hotspots and will distribute Cignificant Change disposal tins at key locations throughout the headland to encourage smokers to dispose of their cigarettes responsibly.
The duo is also keen to develop educational art installations and want to collaborate with Gold Coast City Council to build widespread awareness of the campaign.
Caitlin said FEAL recognised that behaviour change was the most effective way of stemming the plastic pollution tide.
“People used to throw all sorts of rubbish out their car window because they could, but following awareness campaigns they realised it wasn’t cool, that society wasn’t happy with them doing it,” she said.
“Unfortunately, the issue of people chucking their used cigarettes on the ground hasn’t been addressed in the same way. That’s what we’re trying to change.”
Caitlin said building awareness of the issue and encouraging people to do their bit will lead to meaningful change.
“I think people underestimate how powerful they can be. They think their decisions and their actions don’t have an effect, but they do,” she said.
“As human-beings, we need to stand up for the rights of Mother Earth. We haven’t done enough of that yet in Australia, so that’s why we’re here.”
FEAL organises regular Cignificant Change beach clean-up sessions in the Burleigh area. If you’re interested in helping, follow FEAL on Facebook or contact Caitlin on 0409 941 745.
Healthy Land and Water’s Stemming The Tide campaign will feature more stories of important community work in the coming weeks. Follow us on Facebook so you don’t miss the next installment.