Press "Enter" to skip to content

Cigarette butts cause problems for campus wildlife

Cigarette butts are a large cause of pollution on Mills’ campus. (Monika Sabic)
Cigarette butts are a large cause of pollution on Mills’ campus. (Monika Sabic)

Though Mills College was listed last year in The Princeton Review’s Guide to 332 Green Colleges: 2014 Edition, Mills still has environmental issues to be solved. Linda Zitzner, vice president for Operations at Mills, believes that cigarette butt littering and the attendant pollution and risks to wildlife could be eliminated through wider student awareness and better disposal practices.

Zitzner strives to promote the health of Mills students and to preserve the delicate ecosystems that the campus shelters by dealing with the pollution caused by smoking. Zitzner stated that cigarette butts are the number one waste source, globally.

The current shape of Zitzner’s plan to combat this pollution is a campaign with the college’s eco-rep, Brittany Burnett. Their plan is to make the campus’ restoration sites and organic farm smoke free and to expand the smoking ban currently on four of the school’s meadows to include them all.  “No Smoking” signs have also been placed at the school’s preschool.

“Growing organic food and having smoking take place simultaneously on campus makes no sense,” said Zitzner. She believes that a non-smoking campus would have to be facilitated through a student led initiative.

Zitzner said the subject of cigarette smoking and its consequent pollution is a major topic of discussion on campus.  Because of the fact that students only stay at Mills for a limited number of years, Zitzner said that it has been hard to keep the movement towards a smoke-free or smoke-limited campus going.

The issue appears to still be up for debate, with many students seemingly unaware of the current campus smoking policy. The policy states that smoking is not allowed in any student residence, any campus building or within 30 feet of building entrances, doors or windows.

Zitzner said that the rules are enforced as much as possible.

“Public Safety officers do the best that they can,” she said.

Self-contained ashtrays are all around campus for cigarette butts. When used, these ashtrays can minimize pollution. (Hart Rosenberg)
Self-contained ashtrays are all around campus for cigarette butts. When used, these ashtrays can minimize pollution. (Hart Rosenberg)

“Cigarette butts pollute water and soil. All those toxins pass down through the soil, into the groundwater and out to the Bay,” Zitzner said. 

Zitzner, with the help of Burnett, hopes to focus on a campaign around the areas in which smoking most often takes place where it shouldn’t, such as the steps of Rothwell and the bridges to the oval, by the library and near the sustainability center.

“There’s something very inviting about bridges,” Zitzner said.

According to Britta Bullard, the campus sustainability coordinator, she feels the cigarette butt pollution needs to be improved.

“When I see piles of cigarette pollution contaminating these sites next to the two bridges, it doesn’t align with my vision of stewardship,” Bullard said. “I would love to see more people at our Creek Care Days because when we develop a relationship with land, there is deeper care in our future interactions.”

Zitzner said that ashtrays placed around campus don’t contaminate their surrounding areas; they are self-contained, ashtrays that will retain the waste they hold and not allow it to become litter.  But, she said, people still have to use them. 

Zitzner wishes to put more effort into protecting the waterways as well.

“We’ve got three creeks that come through the campus. Mills, actually, because of the restoration efforts and the way Mills has been built over the last 162 years, the water is purified as it goes through our campus,” said Zitzner.  “We want to keep that legacy.  We wouldn’t want to be adding toxins to it. That’s a legitimate reason for why we would want to keep cigarette butt pollution away.”

Mills Sophomore Malu Davis, 19, an occasional smoker, said that he was aware of the rule at Mills regarding smoking limits.

“People try to follow the rule, but they don’t know how far 30 feet is,”  Davis said.

Of the proposed plan to further limit the areas available for smoking on campus, Davis said that he didn’t think it would affect him.

According to David Weber, a non-smoker whose wife attends Mills, the cigarette butt pollution on campus is dismal.

“We have a four-year old who goes to spots in the river and a lot of nature places have cigarette butt litter,” Weber said.

Zitzner has ideas about what the future of smoking at Mills will look like.

“As these islands of non-smoking expand, I’m hoping that actually encourages people to then sign up for smoking cessations” Zitzner said.

The “islands” in which Zitzner refers to are the four meadows, the preschool and the 30-foot-span surrounding buildings — all areas where smoking is already prohibited.

According to Zitzner, there is a program in Mills’ Wellness Group to help with smoking cessation.

Zitzner also said that Mills expanded its non-smoking policy to include e-cigarettes because the policy makers concluded that e-cigarettes are not any safer than standard tobacco.

Despite the flagging of the movement to end smoking at Mills or to at least place more stringent limits on the practice, Zitzner remains positive about the possibility of a smoke-reduced campus.

“It can happen,” she said.