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Tahoe conservationists distribute new cigarette canisters

STATELINE — The oldest and largest conservation group at Lake Tahoe and a coalition of water suppliers plan to start distributing 250 cigarette butt collection canisters around the lake this summer to help protect the cobalt blue waters and reduce litter on the shoreline.

Leaders of the League to Save Lake Tahoe and Tahoe Water Supplies Association say the thousands of butts collected in recent beach cleanup events served as a call to action. More than 27,600 have been collected over the past year.

“With the help of these new cigarette butt canisters, it will be easy for everyone to properly dispose of cigarette butts and Keep Tahoe Blue,” said Marilee Movius, the league’s community engagement manager.

An estimated 98% of cigarette filters are made of plastic fibers, which means they are not biodegradable and can become a form of micro plastic, she said.

“We are so excited to be partnering with the TWSA to build the awareness that cigarette butts are a toxic form of litter that doesn’t biodegrade,” Movius said. “We are looking forward to collecting data to analyze again next year and hoping to see a dramatic drop in the amount of cigarette litter.”

Madonna Dunbar, the water group’s executive director, said in addition to polluting regional drinking water sources, improperly discarded cigarette butts pose a wildfire risk.

“Though they are small, they are numerous,” Dunbar said. “This program offers an opportunity to partner with multiple agencies toward the common goal of providing more public access to a proper disposal method for cigarette butts, and reducing the number we see thrown improperly in our communities.”

The bins were obtained through a Keep America Beautiful grant program.

The League and TWSA plan to install canisters throughout the Lake Tahoe Basin through 2019. The League will be coordinating on the south shore and TWSA will be coordinating on the north shore.

Each canister is designed to be highly visible and include education on how cigarette butts have harmful impacts to the environment and wildlife.

Once a location is identified, the League and TWSA work to find an “owner” of the canister to monitor it, record the amount of cigarettes collected and to empty it properly.

“Using data from the League’s past cleanups, canisters will first be installed in partnership with land managers at hot spots or areas known to generate significant cigarette butt litter,” said Jesse Patterson, chief strategy officer for the League. “We want to deploy as many canisters as possible, as quickly as possible to the areas most in need, and we need the public to help us make this program a success.”

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