As the sun set on Friday night, July 19, which was also the Israeli version of Valentine’s Day, over a dozen local residents scattered along the Tel Aviv beach with one goal – to clean up cigarette butts. The idea was inspired by environmental activist and lifestyle mentor, Julian Melcer, who invited both friends and the wider community to join him in his birthday celebration. He believes that as he was given the gift of life on earth on his birthday, our birthdays should be used to give a gift back.
Within one hour, the group collected about 5,000 cigarette butts from the Tel Aviv beach. While it is a worthy number, it barely makes a dent in the six billion cigarette butts that sit in Israeli landfills, and the 4.5 trillion butts found every year worldwide.
Cigarettes are made of cellulose acetate, a type of plastic known to releases thousands of toxic chemicals into the air and sea, which ecologically harm the environment. Cigarette butts make up about 50% of the trash found on local shores, and it seems that a societal behavioral change must begin to flourish in order to create proper long-term impact. As the most commonly found pieces of trash, many who litter their cigarette butts do not consider them litter at all. About 80% of cigarette butts are not disposed of properly by the people who smoke them, and many environmentalists debate whether there should be no smoking campaigns or no litter campaigns.
Either way, the reality is that it was difficult to walk more than three steps on the beach without spotting a cigarette butt peaking out of the sand. Often times there were small piles of them, even near the many trash bins situated along the beaches. While many local citizens watched from afar, some either shouted a thank you, or approached with a handful of butts they had been inspired to collect by seeing others take action.
“It’s important to notice that one of the most common pieces of litter is the residue of one of the most toxic items that humans use – cigarettes,” says Melcer. Fueled by passion and leading by honorable example, Melcer is working towards building an art project from the collected trash to continue raising awareness.