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Profile: Youth Making a Difference

Allie, Amy, and David Steinmetz and the "No Butts About it Litter Campaign"

“I hope it's the new hair-color-changing Barbie doll,” Allie thought as she finally got her frantic fingers on the holiday gift that she and her two siblings - her twin sister Amy and her younger brother Dave - had all just received from their parents. As we all unwrapped the shiny paper, however, our hearts sank to discover an anticlimactic piece of paper in place of a stylish, fun, new Barbie doll - or for Dave, a new car model. As the boring black type finally commanded our disappointed attention, we realized that our parents had registered us as an adopt-a-shore family, which meant that we were responsible for cleaning up an assigned portion of the beach four times each year. Our new sense of responsibility immediately replaced the childish whims of the doll and toy world. We could never have known just how huge an impact this one present would have on the rest of our lives and on the environment.

Preparing for our first big cleanup, in 1996, Dave gathered gloves and Amy and Allie created tally sheets to document what we collected. Surprisingly, almost every other piece of litter that we cleaned up was a cigarette butt. At the end of our half-hour cleanup, our garbage bag contained 500 butts! Unlike our mom who simply accepted the butts as an inevitable part of the terrain, as almost everyone did, our seven- and three-year old minds could not accept the situation. We asked ourselves, why do smokers litter cigarette butts but manage to properly dispose of litter as small as gum wrappers? Combining our two favorite activities, coloring and cleaning up the beach, we created an innovative poster that depicted our beach as the inside of an ashtray, and it said, "The Beach is NOT Your Ashtray, Keep Our Beaches Clean."

We sent this drawing to our mayor, who immediately implemented it as a hand-out when beach visitors passed through the gatehouse. During a one-month trial period, it was easy to see that the cigarette butt litter greatly declined. The posters became a permanent fixture, and wearing handmade "“No Butts About It” " t-shirts dripping with 'mistake' globs of paint, we each proudly shook the Mayor of Boca Raton's hand at a city council meeting that celebrated the project.

Awareness is the key to reaching the top of the seemingly insurmountable heap of butts. Most smokers do not realize that their butts are litter and once aware, they can easily stop their harmful and unacceptable habit. The success in our town inspired us to write to all beaches in Florida, and then to all governors of coastal states. “No Butts About It” was spreading. Working as a team, we accomplished a lot and motivated each other to keep moving forward on our campaign.

In 1998, my family moved to Connecticut, and we were surprised to realize that cigarette butts littered not only beaches, but also sidewalks, trails, parks, and places common in every state. In Florida we were so focused on our beach-cleaning responsibility that we didn’t completely consider the other places that cigarette butts litter. Once we were in another state, in new surroundings, the pervasiveness of the litter became obvious. We had been too specific in limiting our solution to only the beach. We quickly modified our beach-specific poster to depict the entire globe hollowed out and used as an ashtray. Our letter-writing continued to reach new groups - government departments, parks, downtown preservation districts, etc. We learned how to create a website, which gave the “No Butts About It” campaign the ability to raise awareness internationally. Currently, “No Butts About It” is being used to reduce cigarette butt litter in 48 states as well as on every inhabited continent on earth! “No Butts About It” has been recognized by U.S. Presidents, we have collaborated with Keep America Beautiful, and we have been part of international coalitions. We have also been the impetus for legislation in the Connecticut State Legislature through Connecticut State Senator Joseph Crisco, and we are hoping to soon collaborate with U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman on national legislation that would require a warning on cigarette packages to dispose of butts properly.

When a person is motivated to take action, no matter how young or old, he can change the world. The students of a school in Hamden, Connecticut drew their own awareness posters for earth day; the Parks and Recreation Department in Georgia, as well as the National Parks Service in Acadia, Maine, use “No Butts About It” to clean their beautiful terrain; Clean Virginia Waterways has handed out our materials to tens of thousands of visitors; an individual in upstate New York has made her jeep club more aware; a third grader has informed his classmates; international collaborations are creating a united front to tackle cigarette butt litter; teachers and CEO?, insurance agents and park rangers, students and leaders of international campaigns, boy scouts and restaurant owners, landlords and presidents of non-profit organizations, and all types of individuals have helped make “No Butts About It” a success throughout the world. Hanging our poster, handing out our fact sheet, creating a presentation or original poster, conducting a clean-up, or simply learning about the problem and making one friend aware helps. Each person can make a difference by acting. The common sight of one tiny littered cigarette butt motivated us to change an unacceptable and harmful habit. We haven't stopped, and we are making a difference. You can, too!




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