Hold on to Your Butt – Surfrider San Francisco

Hold on to Your Butt

In recent years, the issue of marine debris has gained significant worldwide attention and legislative, educational, and management strategies have been developed to address impacts from certain types of marine debris: plastic bag bans, microbead bans, and cigarette abatement programs.  However, in San Francisco, cigarette butts are such a pervasive debris type that Surfrider volunteers pick up an average of 6,500 butts at every two-hour cleanup event. Butts make their way into storm drains and from there into the bay. Cigarette filters are made out of a plastic-like material; the cellulose acetate fibers behave just like plastics in the marine environment. Even if they do break into smaller pieces, they persist as microplastic debris. 

We worked with Surfrider San Francisco in their efforts to change butt-discarding behavior. The project took a two-pronged approach of 1) increased disposal options for cigarette butts and 2) targeted behavior change among smokers. We conducted extensive audience research on different segments of the target populations to determine barriers to behavior change and design interventions and messaging that would resonate with each segment. The subsequent campaign installed 175 designed cigarette butt receptacles in butt debris hotspots, distributed 13,000 designed pocket ashtrays, and engaged an estimated 30,000 people through community-based and social media campaigns.

The San Francisco Surfrider chapter serves as the first response to local threats on San Francisco’s coastal communities. As a chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, they are dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of the world’s oceans, waves, and beaches for all people. They collaborate on both the local and national level fighting for plastic reduction, ocean protection, beach access, coast & climate, and clean water.

The NOAA Marine Debris Program is the U.S. Federal government’s lead for addressing marine debris. With a mission to investigate and prevent the adverse impacts of marine debris, NOAA operates through six main pillars: Prevention, Removal, Research, Monitoring and Detection, Response, and Coordination. Since its inception, NOAA has strived to help find solutions to the marine debris problem and envisions the global ocean and its coast free from the impacts of marine debris.