Thousands of cigarette butts are being discarded in the city’s streets, drains, parks and roadways with alarming frequency, according to a litter mapping project run by James Cook University (JCU).
JCU students picked up 19,258 pieces of litter in locations between the Cairns Esplanade and Palm Cove, the bulk of which was cigarette butts – 10,095 of them in total.
The project is in its third year and is carried out by students studying the subject Introduction to Geographic Information Systems. This year, 47 students recorded the type and distribution of the litter in and around the city over a two-week period.
Senior Lecturer Karen Joyce said the students will take their findings to the Cairns Regional Council Sustainability team in a bid to assist in identifying patterns and solutions to littering in the city.
“The cigarette butts are so insidious that most people are blind to them. Once you start looking, you see that they are everywhere,” said Dr Joyce. “Most cigarette butts have plastic in their filters as well as chemicals, both of which are harmful to marine life.”
Dr Joyce said a substantial amount of litter was also being discarded within a few paces of a public rubbish bin, bus stop or picnic area.
“Intuitively, we might think that more bins would mean less litter, but more than 40% of the litter that the students found was within just 50 metres of a Cairns Regional Council litter bin,” said Dr Joyce.
“It is maddening to think that people will not walk the length of a swimming pool to dispose of their rubbish.”
Tourist spots like the Esplanade were generally ‘cleaner’ than public suburban parks; the theory behind the finding was that people were less likely to litter in highly visible areas, and more likely to litter in places they could see rubbish, perpetuating litter hotspots. In a single dog-off-lead park, more than 30 bags of dog excrement had been discarded on the ground instead of in a bin.
“It seems that some people are quite happy to pick up the dog poop, but not so willing to dispose of it responsibly,” said Dr Joyce.
At a glance: Cairns’ dirty little secrets
- Students collected and mapped the locations of 19,258 pieces of litter between the Esplanade and Palm Cove over two weeks
- Cigarette butts accounted for 52% of litter pieces collected around Cairns
- More than 40% of litter collected in public areas of Cairns was discarded within 50m of a council bin
- Local suburban areas were ‘dirtier’ than tourist spots like the Esplanade
- More than 30 bags of dog excrement were found in a single dog-off-lead park