Fund For Lake Michigan

Keeping Our Beaches Tobacco Free

Erin Keleske–The most commonly littered plastic in the world isn’t straws. It’s not the single-use plastic bags we see floating around like urban tumbleweeds or even the plastic film that seems to be wrapped around every single item in the grocery store. It’s something most people don’t even realize is plastic–cigarette butts.

From cigar tips to vape pen cartridges, Milwaukee volunteers collected nearly 40,000 tobacco-related products at cleanups over the last ten years. That’s the equivalent of 1,500 packs of cigarettes and 2,000 packs of cigars. This litter can inhibit plant growth, harm animal life, and degrade into dangerous microplastics. 

But this week, the City of Milwaukee Tobacco-Free Alliance is announcing a crucial step towards combating tobacco litter.  With support from the Fund for Lake Michigan, 24 receptacles have been installed at beaches, along Brady Street and North Avenue, near select bus shelters, and in other high-traffic locations.

These installments are part of a larger national campaign started by the Surfrider Foundation in 2004, playfully named, “Hold on to Your Butt.” The project aims to raise awareness about the often-overlooked environmental impacts of tobacco litter and remind our community that “beaches and streets are not ashtrays.” 

Since its inception in 2010, the City of Milwaukee Tobacco-Free Alliance has focused primarily on human health related projects like youth tobacco prevention, smoke-free housing, and reducing social and racial disparities in tobacco exposure. 

Coordinator and public health champion Anneke Mohr says the campaign stems from earlier initiatives that targeted tobacco-use at public events and festivals. Targeting outdoor areas protects both our physical environment as well as the young and at-risk community members that frequent these spaces.  

According to Mohr, this project created a natural connection between the Alliance and local environmental organizations, leading to strong partnerships with the Fund for Lake Michigan, Milwaukee County Parks Department, Alliance for the Great Lakes, and Plastic-Free MKE. 

Those interested in learning more are invited to attend the Tobacco Free Alliance’s press conference at 1:00 on Tuesday, October 15th at Bradford Beach. The press event will be preceded by a beach cleanup organized by Milwaukee Riverkeeper and Plastic-Free MKE starting at noon.