It’s been 30 years since Canada first proposed the concept of World Oceans Day in 1992 at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Now, every year on June 8 the world unites to celebrate the world’s oceans and to take action to protect them.
On the West Coast of Vancouver Island, the crew at Surfrider Pacific Rim is riding into World Oceans Day 2022 with a surfboard made out of cigarette butts. They hope the cigarette surfboard dubbed the ‘Dart Board’ will bring awareness to the most littered item on the planet.
“Is it ironic to celebrate if we are still struggling to ban single-use plastics and cigarettes are still the most common item collected worldwide? It is amazing to have a World Oceans Day, but we need to put action behind our words and end the billions of cigarette butts that fill our oceans annually. We need to make the tobacco companies responsible for the billions of dollars of damage they have caused our environment and the Canadian government needs to create legislation to force the companies to do so,” said Laurie Hannah, Surfrider Pacific Rim’s chapter coordinator.
According to Hannah, the legislation in Canada to address cigarette butt pollution is “weak to non-existent”. She says there is the ‘Tobacco & Vaping Products Act’, but nothing that specifically addresses the cellulose acetate filter, which is the plastic that people are inhaling the cigarette smoke through.
“Until the 1950s, there were no plastic filters, these were added as part of a marketing scheme to increase the idea of smoking being safe. Originally made of biodegradable materials, butts could break down within a short time frame - there is absolutely no reason we can’t return to this,” said Hannah.
Surfrider Pacific Rim would like to see a federal ban on cellulose acetate cigarette filters. They are also advocating for extended producer responsibility to be expanded to tobacco corporations to make them responsible for the mass collection, recycling, and cleanup of cigarette butts and all packaging.
“It would be nice to have legislative change so we are not just going to be collecting butts until the end of time,” said Clint Mack, Surfrider Pacific Rim’s campaign lead for the Hold On To Your Butts (HOTYB), a program that collects cigarette butts and recycles them through Terracycle.
Since 2017, 1.2 million cigarette butts have been recycled through Surfrider’s HOTYB program. There are a total of 97 canisters on the West Coast for smokers to use, and volunteers on the HOTYB committee collect the butts from those canisters six times a year.
Mack told the Westerly they are coming from a place of non-judgement.
“It’s just a simple change of human behaviour that takes little to no effort. Cigarette butts don’t just magically disappear. If you throw them in the trash, they end up in the landfill, and that’s the whole point of the program is that they are recyclable and can be used to make useful things like synthetic lumber,” he said.
“Thanks to the businesses that are involved because they do a great job. We encourage others to join and encourage smokers to take their butts to Ozzard Environmental in Ucluelet, there is a canister there,” Mack adds.
The ‘Dart Board’, a 7’0 twin fish board, was made by Ucluelet shaper Jesse Jones. It is Canada’s first official surfboard made from cigarettes.