MANATEE -- Manatee County smokers now have more ways to dispose of their cigarette butts.
The county has used a Keep America Beautiful Cigarette Litter Prevention Program grant to install 48 more cigarette receptacles, mainly at county parks. The county, which received $2,500 from Keep America Beautiful for the program, matched the grant.
"We found that there are not enough cigarette disposal locations for residents, citizens or tourists to dispose cigarette or even cigar butts," said Carmine DeMilio, the county's property management parks operations manager.
While this is the first time county officials have applied for the grant on their own, they've received money in partnership with Keep Manatee Beautiful in the past, DeMilio said. Since the cigarettes contain a plastic-like material, they don't easily degrade.
"It doesn't break down, it gets into the stream, it gets into the river and harms marine life," DeMilio said. "It's extremely important cumulatively, but when you look at our location being by a riv
er and Anna Maria Island, the marine life is very important to us."
Before Keep Manatee Beautiful began implementing its Cigarette Litter Prevention Program in 2009 with the cities of Anna Maria, Holmes Beach and Palmetto along with the county's parks and natural resources department, smokers didn't really have a place to dispose of their cigarette butts, said Ingrid McClellan, Keep Manatee Beautiful executive director.
"They either had to bring their own (disposal) or put it wherever they decided to put it," McClellan said.
According to Keep Manatee Beautiful, it takes between seven to 25 years for a cigarette butt to break down.
The aluminum cigarette receptacles, which each hold around 700 butts, help from a park maintenance standpoint in addition to saving the environment,.
"It has become very successful," DeMilio said. "Instead of staff picking up 100 cigarette butts, they are now picking up one or two."
DeMilio said Keep America Beautiful surveyed smokers and 80 percent of the respondents said not enough disposal locations meant they put cigarette butts on the ground.
"If we can stop 80 percent of smokers by installing cigarette (receptacles), then that would cut down 80 percent of what we have in the parks system," he said.
All the new receptacles were installed by June 1, and DeMilio said he just completed the follow-up report, which showed that in the past eight weeks, 90 percent of the cigarette butts are now properly disposed.
"For the most part, some of the tourists and citizens feel that it's not inappropriate to drop cigarette butts on the ground and step on it, but it can blow into a stream or get into the ocean and kill marine life," DeMilio said.
As part of the grant, the county will conduct two education courses at middle or high schools to educate students on the program, DeMilio said.
For more information about the Keep America Beautiful Cigarette Litter Prevention Program, go to preventcigarettelitter.org.
Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024. Follow her on Twitter @Claire_Aronson.