KILL DEVIL HILLS, N.C.
Cigarette butts are the latest nemesis of towns and groups ambitious to keep beaches, oceans and waterways clear of harmful trash.
Kill Devil Hills has started a "Kick Butt" campaign, placing disposal containers at all 19 beach access areas and at Avalon Pier. Volunteers pass out pocket-sized butt holders by the hundreds and stickers adorned with a wide-eyed, attention-getting cartoon cigarette.
The Surfrider Foundation of the Outer Banks has helped with the effort.
Nags Head has put up cigarette butt receptacles at beach access points.
A team with the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island collected 10,900 cigarette butts from the grounds, beaches and dispensers over about a year and a half, said aquarium spokeswoman Chelsea Miller.
Butts are especially prevalent at public beach access points and at traffic lights and stop signs along the highway, said Natalie Painter, co-chairperson of the Kill Devil Hill's Community Appearance Commission.
"It's tough," she said. "Most of what we pick up is cigarette butts. They pile up during tourist season. They're not thinking about the impacts."
The war on cigarette butts goes beyond the Outer Banks. Every year, the Ocean Conservancy has sponsored a worldwide trash cleanup that includes hundreds of nations and thousands of volunteers.
The cleaners picked up 2.4 million cigarette butts, the number one item found in the 2017 cleanup, according to a report by the group.
Smokers toss them aside thinking they are biodegradable and will shortly disappear, said Sue Kelly, who is the cleanup campaign leader with Painter. Instead the stubs are made from cellulose-acetate, a plastic that can take up to a decade to degrade. The remains contain 165 chemicals that can be harmful to wildlife, she said.
The group plans to continue education and cleanup efforts during the year.
"It's an ongoing process," Kelly said.