Volunteers working to help cut down cigarette litter on Tybee Island

TYBEE ISLAND, GA (WTOC) - They're the most common pieces of litter you see at the beach, and now they're the target of a national campaign right here in Coastal Georgia.

Several volunteer groups will be using part of a $15,000 gr ant to help cut down on cigarette butt litter.

In a year's time, it's not unusual for volunteer groups on Tybee Island to pick up hundreds of cigarette butts. They can be found everywhere - from the streets to the sand.

"We have counted over 200,000 on Tybee beaches in the last 18 months. There's a lot more than that," said Tim Arnold, Founder, Tybee Clean Beach Volunteers.

Not only do the butts ruin the look of the beach, they're also harmful to local animal and plant life - a problem local leaders are also very aware of.

"When it's that many, it's a cumulative thing. They get out into the water, they can be ingested by birds, wildlife, marine life, and then it becomes a real problem," said Tybee Island Mayor, Jason Buelterman.

"I don't think most people realize that the filters are plastic, actually a plasticized fiber, so they don't degrade very quickly, and they've been really well engineered to trap a lot of toxins, over 30 toxins, a lot of heavy metals - things that are very damaging in concentrated levels. The problem is, cigarette butts when they're wet leach all those toxins," Arnold said.

Arnold says this campaign isn't anti-smoking. It's about litter, and over the next three months, Georgia's six coastal counties will be spreading the word, distributing ashtrays and installing cigarette butt receptacles around some of the higher traffic areas.

"We are going to be distributing them on certain days in a coordinated campaign, and then, of course, our beach ambassadors that are set up on some of the busy crossovers have ashtrays at their tent."

The hope is more places to dispose of the butts will mean less on the beach.

They hope to put 80 or so of the waist level cigarette butt receptacles in strategic areas around the island this summer.

Copyright 2018 WTOC. All rights reserved.