No ifs, ands or butts about it

The push is on to collect, transport, process and safely dispose of cigarette butts, just like other materials. What would that look like?

War stories are not my usual fare, but this week I had reason to watch a Second World War movie after learning of Doolittle’s Raiders, a volunteer group of U.S. flyers who bombed Japan in 1942 in a suicide mission if ever there was one.

Following the sneak bombing of Pearl Harbour by the Japanese in 1941 the American Air Force marshalled  16 B-25 bombers each manned by a  crew of five  volunteers to undertake a secret mission.

For three months Doolittle’s Raiders, as they became known, practised takeoffs at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. Never before had B-25 bombers loaded with bombs been asked to take off in 500 feet.

Five hundred feet  was the deck length of the aircraft carrier that would serve as their airfield during the mission;   no friendly field was available  close to Japan. Their mission was to bomb coastal munitions factories in Japan, then hightail it for a friendly field in China.

Japan got wind of the impending raid forcing a change of plans at the last minute. They would be  starting farther from Japan and therefore could expect to run out of fuel before reaching China. Pilots were instructed to fly their mission, drop their bombs, then fly as far as fuel lasted  straight toward the sea and pray to survive a crash.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer recreated the events of that doomed Raiders’ mission in  a movie titled Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo. After reading that the 62 who survived the war   met every year since  to commemorate the event until now only four are still alive, I watched the two-hour black and white movie.

My attention was caught by the price of cigarettes in 1941. To be able to afford to buy his wife of six months a silk kimono when he reached China, and knowing cigarettes could be traded at a premium over there, before he took flight  on the mission one pilot bought 12 cartons of cigarettes at the carrier’s PX. The dozen cartons cost him $7.20.

Had I  watched the movie a week earlier I’d not have noted the price of cigarettes. But in this week’s news  the push is on to force cigarette manufacturers to collect, transport, process and safely dispose of cigarette butts,  just as manufacturers of  paints, electronics, light bulbs and other dangerous goods now must.

A Simon Fraser professor, Kelley Lee, has been studying the down side of cigarette butts as part of a cigarette butt pollution project. She notes the harmful effects of butts to our oceans, waterways, wildlife. Animals eat the butts, think they are full, then die of starvation. Tar, nicotine, and pesticides leech from the butts, particularly from the filters, made from plastics which are virtually non-biodegradable in less than 30 years.

In dry years such as 2015 the cost of extinguishing grass, roadside, and forest fires started by careless throwing away of burning  butts reached budget bankrupting totals. In just over one week last summer Vancouver experienced 35 grass fires. Imagine the multiple callouts and expense of fighting needless fires.

A company in New Jersey, Terra-Cycle, recycles butts into  plastic lumber which can be used to build park benches. A fitting recycling since park benches often sit amidst a berm of butts.

I wonder, though, how the collection process would unfold. Pay individuals to pick up and turn in butts much as we prairie kids did gopher tails in the 1940s for two cents a tail?

Where would collection depots be?  Would every seller have to take back butts, just as supermarkets accept plastic bottles? Surely not.  Would every household be issued another recycling box specifically for butts?

Collecting butts might encourage smokers to quit.

 

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