FOLLY BEACH, SC (WCSC) - The state's department of health and Lowcountry conservation groups are continuing efforts to fight cigarette litter on Folly Beach.
The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, Folly Green, Surfrider Foundation, NOAA, and National Marine Sanctuary Foundation have spent months monitoring a few miles of coastline, watching both water and sand, in an ongoing study.
"Folly Beach has a chronic problem of cigarette litter that's improperly disposed of in the beach environment," said Daniel Burger, Director of the Coastal Services Division with DHEC. "
They hope to raise awareness about the proper disposal of cigarette butts. The groups already placed 15 cigarette receptacles at walkover locations to get people to properly dispose of their cigarettes. In January, officials collected more than 6,500 cigarette butts in 16 hours for the baseline assessment in the study.
"The cigarette butt cannons are effective, because they're full," said Michael Ezelle, a member of Folly Green. "It's a lot of work to empty them out so that's great."
Ezelle said he's noticed some changes over the last eight months with the study. DHEC teamed up with groups to distribute litter prevention information cards which can be used as ashtrays. The cards are available at beach bars and restaurants.
"I think, by and large, people want to do the right thing," Ezelle said. "They do take them, they do use them, but I think there's a lot of work to be done. I think there's a lot more education we need to get out there."
"Some people would be open to them, but not a lot of people," said Thelma Dickens, of West Ashley. When asked why she thinks that is, Dickens responded, "Because they won't carry them around with them, because they've got all their other stuff, they're still going to smoke and throw cigarettes as they're walking."
Burger believes many people think cigarette butts are biodegradable, but most are actually made of micro-plastics that do not break down.
"It's actually an acetate, which is plastic," he said. "Plastics break down very slowly in the environment, they release a lot of toxins and heavy metals, and they never really go away entirely."
"They're dangerous to fish, they're dangerous to turtles, they're dangerous to children, to everybody," Ezelle added. "So to me this is a call to action."
"Many smokers feel that they are responsible for their litter," Burger said. "Unfortunately, the data indicates otherwise. What we're trying to understand is with education, and convenient disposal options, whether we can change the behavior of smokers to manage their litter more responsibly."
Planners say with proper disposal or not smoking on the beach you can ultimately help humans and wildlife.
The study is expected to wrap up in the fall. DHEC will look at the number of butts collected through the receptacles as well as what is found on the beach.