CANNON BEACH — A South County woman’s campaign to clean up a very specific type of litter comes with a memorable tagline: “Cannon Beach: Too Beautiful for Butts.”
Lolly Champion is not proposing a war on anatomy. She is trying to get rid of cigarette butts.
The discarded butts, with their plastic filters and often toxic ingredients, affect not just the appearance of Cannon Beach, but could also have a big impact on the wildlife and ecosystems residents and visitors prize, she said.
In June, Champion received permission from the City Council to attach disposal containers specifically for cigarette butts to existing city trash receptacles.
Champion found the containers herself, negotiated a mass order price with the company that sells them, designed informational posters, raised money in the community to pay for the containers and is working with a recycling company to recycle what she collects.
You know, something to do when there’s nothing good on TV, joked Champion, who was involved in organizing Portland’s first Race for the Cure event for breast cancer awareness in the 1990s.
As a private citizen, Champion figured she could move more quickly than city government or local boards to address the issue. She also plans to send some of the collected butts back to cigarette manufacturers and ask them (politely) to start taking responsibility for how to recycle their products — a piece of activism the city couldn’t necessarily tackle.
The first 24 containers went up last week. Champion hopes to be able to install 80 in high traffic areas: at local businesses, at beach access points and elsewhere in the city.
“We’re not here to say, ‘Shame on you for smoking,’” Champion said. “This is about being a responsible smoker.”
“The (Cannon Beach Chamber of Commerce’s) motto states, ‘Love Cannon Beach like a local and have it love you back,’ and ‘There is magic here,’” Champion wrote in her proposal to the City Council. “Those declarations are compromised by all litter, particularly toxic butt litter as visitors explore Cannon Beach.”
“As a city that advertises as much as it does as a very special place, it seemed like a huge inconsistency to us that we had this many cigarette butts,” Champion said.
The number of discarded cigarette butts predictably surges after holidays and over busy weekends. They accumulate on sidewalks and on the beach, where they are found by Champion and others who routinely roam the community picking up butts.
“You begin picking them up and you pick up more and more and it just becomes this kind of compulsive reaction,” Champion said.
The pickers will compare notes when they encounter each other on their rounds, “How many did you pick?”
Despite all the upfront work Champion has put in to get the disposal containers in place, dealing with cigarette butt litter has been a community effort, she said.
But like other community pushes to curb the use of single-use plastic bags on the North Coast, cigarette butt disposal in Cannon Beach is kind of a drop in the bucket when it comes to addressing the larger issue of plastic pollution.
“I guess it’s just little steps. And is it going to change the world? No,” Champion said. “It’s still worth doing.”