Cigarette butts are one of the biggest contributors to litter.
Cigarette butts are one of the biggest contributors to litter. Helen Spelitis

Cigarette butts 'don't just magically disappear': OPINION

CLEAN UP Australia Day was March 4, and as usual a vast minority continues to do the right thing to make up for the rest of us who constantly pollute our surrounds with rubbish - an estimated 16,000 tonnes were collected this year.

I used to volunteer when I was a scuba divemaster; my underwater group cleaned a harbourside beach in Sydney, where the main culprits were plastic coffee cup lids, bait bags and discarded fishing line and floats. Apparently an awful lot of those who fish find it acceptable to cut off tangles and throw them in the drink with little regard for wildlife. Oh, and of course, the ubiquitous cigarette butt. Hundreds and hundreds of butts. You smokers out there who still drag and drop (thankfully the majority do the right thing or we'd be up to our eyeballs in filters), does it not occur to you every time you flick one that they don't just magically disappear? They remain until someone else cleans them up, or they get washed into the nearest waterway where they exist for up to 10 years.

These days, I pick up rubbish constantly. A friend and I scour the sand of our local beach daily on our walk and pick up anything that shouldn't be there. We could fill a (plastic) garbage bag every day - and yes, I'm aware of that hypocrisy.

What I notice here is the remains of balloons; my town is a popular destination for weddings and parties. Why not choke a few dolphins or seabirds to celebrate your special day? Another friend in Sydney reports the rubbish she sees most on her beach are butts and the tiny coloured lids from "fishies”, the little takeaway soy sauce bottles which are also used for liquid illicit drugs.

With all the evidence facing us of millions of tonnes of waste ending up in the ocean, why are we not being more responsible? Do we want our beaches to end up like the once-pristine sands of Bali, with literal mountains of crap? Why is the NSW Government refusing to ban single-use plastic shopping bags? Why can toilet paper manufacturers still sell the so-called "flushable wipes” (which are anything but and cause hundreds of thousands of dollars-worth of blockages to the sewer system)? We know the outcome but nothing is done. We need to stop buying rubbish.

My engineer mate Dave is one of the smartest people I know.

About a week ago we were having this conversation; we agreed that just about every plastic thing ever made is still in existence, somewhere in the world.

It might look different now, but it still exists. He pointed out that when we say we "throw something away”, there's no such thing as "away”.

Nailed it, Dave.