The Tobacco Product Waste Reduction Project works with local communities and governments in San Diego County to address tobacco product waste and help protect California’s neighborhoods and the environment.

Project funded by: California’s Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program

Principal investigator: Georg Matt, PhD

Have you ever noticed cigarette butts while walking through a parking lot, along the sidewalks, in parks, or at the beach? Cigarette butts are the most common form of tobacco product waste and they are everywhere. Even worse, cigarette butts are only one type of tobacco product waste! Other tobacco products, such as cigars, cigarillos, and smokeless tobacco create hazardous trash as well as e-cigarettes or vapes. Pods, pens, cartridges, and batteries contribute to the litter along with smoked and edible cannabis.

This waste is not just unsightly, it contains chemicals that are harmful to people, pets, and the environment. The Tobacco Product Waste Reduction Project works with communities to eliminate this toxic waste from their streets, sidewalks, parks, and beaches.

This waste is not just unsightly, it contains chemicals that are harmful to people, pets, and the environment. The Tobacco Product Waste Reduction Project works with communities to eliminate this toxic waste from their streets, sidewalks, parks, and beaches.

How the Tobacco Product Waste Reduction Project Works:

  1. Confirm eight cities for data collection.
  2. Introduce the project to each city’s leaders and residents.
  3. Select 120 city blocks for data collection.
  4. Invite volunteers to participate in the project.
  5. Train volunteers and staff in data collection methods.
  6. Conduct data collection events.
  7. Measure all tobacco product waste.
  8. Create neighborhood maps of tobacco product waste.
  9. Identify factors that contribute to distribution of tobacco product waste.
  10. Brainstorm solutions to reduce or eliminate the waste.

The project team wants your help to create solutions to reduce and ultimately eliminate this toxic waste in San Diego communities. Community organizations and concerned individuals are encouraged to volunteer!

Data collection events are anticipated to begin by mid-2021 with sites including Carlsbad, Escondido, Oceanside, San Marcos, Vista, San Diego, El Cajon, and Chula Vista. Teams of committed volunteers will work alongside project staff to collect tobacco product waste, create maps to show how the waste is distributed in the County, and facilitate discussions to develop sustainable solutions.

Read our fact sheet to find out more.

Interested in joining our mission to transform San Diego communities?

Learn more about tobacco product waste. See our compilation of resources and additional information.

Already a volunteer?

See our upcoming events and find relevant information on the page below.

Frequently Asked Questions

How harmful is the waste?

Unfortunately, this potentially hazardous waste creates safety risks for children, adults, pets, and our environment. Many of the chemicals in tobacco product waste are included on the Proposition 65 list because they are known to cause cancer and reproductive harm. People and pets come into direct contact with these chemicals when they encounter waste on streets, parks, playgrounds, and beaches.

There is also concern about the environmental exposure resulting from cigarette butts and tobacco waste products in rivers, creeks, lakes, and the ocean. Plastic cigarette filters degrade slowly, releasing toxic chemicals into the water. Tobacco is often exposed to pesticides and other chemicals during the growing process. These chemicals contaminate the water, fish, and recreational visitors to rivers, creeks, lakes, and beaches where tobacco waste exists.

Many tobacco waste products also enter storm drains and are washed directly out to the ocean. In recognition of this problem, the California Environmental Protection Agency will enforce requirements in 2025 preventing any items 5mm or greater (less than a ¼ inch, which includes cigarette butts) from entering storm drains.

Tobacco product waste is also persistent and costly to clean up. Regularly cleaning up tobacco product waste is estimated to cost America’s cities anywhere between $4 and $90 million annually.*

*Source: Online Simulation Model to Estimate the Total Costs of Tobacco Product Waste in Large U.S. Cities
J. E. Schneider, C. M. Scheibling, N. A. Peterson, P. Stigler Granados, L. Fulton and T. E. Novotny. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 2020. Vol. 17 Issue 13 Pages 4705. Accession Number: doi:10.3390/ijerph17134705.

How can community organizations get involved?
• Inform organization members, political leaders, and other stakeholders about the project and collection events in their neighborhoods.
• Enlist volunteers to assist with planning and participation in collection events.
• Share the project results with community members and other advocates through meetings and social media.
• Encourage community organizations to intentionally include tobacco product waste in environmental messaging. Invite the Tobacco Product Waste Reduction Project staff to community clean-ups and other environmental activities.
Who can volunteer?
We welcome all to join our effort, especially if you have a passion for creating a safe and livable environment, free of tobacco product waste. Please don’t forget to share your creative ideas about sustainable solutions.
What will volunteers do?
• Complete a two-hour training session (may be completed online)
• Participate in two (or more!) collection events in San Diego County
• Share information about the Tobacco Product Waste Reduction Project on social media
• Inform relatives and friends about the project
• Various other opportunities (depending on your skills and interests)
Can we volunteer as a group?
Maybe, it depends on the group. Each collection team has a maximum number of participants, so if your group is very large, you may not have the opportunity to work together.
Can kids volunteer?
We may be able to accommodate volunteers younger than 18 if they are accompanied by an adult. Please fill out our sign-up form here and we will get back to you.
What about COVID?
Safety is a priority for us! As of early 2021, we are not cleared by San Diego State University to work in the community due to COVID risk factors. When we are, we will follow all Public Health Department guidelines. Volunteers and staff will be carefully trained to collect tobacco product waste following strict safety protocols.
How can I sign up to volunteer?
It’s easy! Just fill out our sign-up form here and we will do our best to get back to you within 48 hours.
Do I have to live in the city where the tobacco waste is being collected?
You can volunteer in any city where we are holding collection events! We will be holding collection events in Carlsbad, Escondido, Oceanside, San Marcos, Vista, San Diego, El Cajon, and Chula Vista. Sign up so you can see our event calendar! Sign up here.
Do volunteers receive a stipend?
No, unfortunately we do not have funding to offer stipends. However, we may assist with transportation costs to collection events, on a limited basis.