Written by SurfWriter Girls Sunny Magdaug and Patti Kishel
Huntington Beach couple Alex and Norma Sellers love the beach – from surfing by the pier and riding their bikes along the coast to watching dazzling sunsets over the ocean. But, there's one thing they can't stand – cigarette butts.
Rather than look the other way, the Sellers, who have been married for 27-years, decided to do something about the cigarette butts littering their beach and community. As members of the non-profit Surfrider Foundation's Huntington/Seal Beach Chapter, they volunteered to head up the chapter's Hold On To Your Butt program, which is dedicated to removing cigarette butts from the beach and city streets.
For the past three years the Sellers have been instrumental in getting butts disposal canisters placed throughout Huntington Beach in places where smokers can easily access them. The goal isn't to stop people from smoking, but to get them to toss the butts in the canisters, rather than on the ground and ultimately ending up in waterways and oceans.
The program, which was initially launched by former Butts chairperson Don MacLean, has been such a big success that neighboring Seal Beach has installed butts canisters, too. Since the program's inception close to 275,000 cigarette butts have been collected and sent for recycling.
Surfrider H/SB Chapter Chairperson Tony Soriano praises the Sellers for their tireless efforts to keep the area's beaches butts-free and points out that what they are doing is no easy task due to the magnitude of the problem. "Cigarettes are the number one contaminant in our ocean."
SurfWriter Girls Sunny Magdaug and Patti Kishel did some research to find out more about how cigarette butts are polluting the environment. What emerged wasn't a pretty picture. In fact, cigarette butts are the most littered item on the planet, accounting for close to 5 trillion butts tossed worldwide. A breakdown of highway litter in America shows that cigarettes are currently in the top spot, representing 38% of roadway trash.
In addition to being unsightly, the littered butts are toxic. Once they end up in the ocean they break down into micro-plastics that harm and kill fish and birds, who ingest them. Later, when animals who have ingested the butts are fished or caught, the micro-plastics can end up in the food chain for human consumption. An item you definitely don't want to see on the menu!
Not ones to shy away from a challenge, the Sellers wear Surfrider T-shirts defiantly proclaiming "Our Beaches & Streets Are Not Ashtrays!" And they spend part of each week packing up bags of the butts deposited in the disposal canisters to send to the recycler. Norma says, "We usually collect about 22 lbs. of butts in a month, which equals about 22,000 cigarette butts that will no longer make it to our oceans."
Along with this, on most weekends you can find the anti-butts duo at a Surfrider beach cleanup working with volunteers to collect and remove cigarette butts from the sand. Sometimes there's a whole wheel barrow full of the butts.
The Sellers are also eager to educate people about the health hazards of the tossed butts and have created materials and displays to get their message across – giant bottles filled with the butts and even a wading pool cigarette "beach" of butts complete with plastic doll sunbathers.
And, woe to anyone who tosses a cigarette butt on the sand. When that happens SurfWriter Girls wouldn't be surprised to see Alex hoist the Jolly Roger pirate flag and make them walk the plank!
Asked why they spend so much time collecting cigarette butts, Alex and Norma replied in unison that they do it to protect the oceans, waves and beaches for everyone. "We enjoy volunteering for the Surfrider Foundation and seeing families, surfers, teens and especially kids enjoying the beach and all our sea creatures, too."
By the time Sunday comes around it's a wonder that the Sellers have any energy left to enjoy a relaxing day at the beach. But, when they see a clean, butts-free stretch of sand before them, they are ready to run across it to the ocean...and resume their battle of the butts.
To see the personal side of Alex & Norma and why they love the beach, take a look at their photo profile in Surf’n Beach Scene Magazine’s Surfrider page.
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