EDITORIAL: Fine fix to dirty problem

TO some, issuing a fine of up to $750 for a discarded cigarette butt might seem like an overly harsh penalty.

After all, a single butt is not going to seriously injure or kill anyone.

But rarely is just one cigarette butt the problem.

Port Stephens mayor Bruce MacKenzie is not alone in his desire to do something about the blight of cigarette butt pollution.

While the main street of Raymond Terrace may have been the starting point for the council’s campaign, it is a problem that plagues many urban environments across Australia.

This is reflected by recent Keep Australia Beautiful statistics that show cigarette butts are the nation’s most common litter item, with roughly 28 found per square kilometre.

However you look at it, the cumulative social, economic and environmental impact of cigarette butt pollution is significant.

In addition to being unsightly, there is the unnecessary cost to ratepayers of having council staff clean up after those who refuse to dispose of their waste appropriately.

Freshly discarded cigarette butts in public places can also carry disease.

There are also major environmental consequences, which can be particularly serious in the ‘‘bluewater wonderland’’ of Port Stephens.

Discarded butts, like other types of litter, inevitably make their way down gutters, into stormwater drains and waterways and beaches.

Once they become part of the environment birds, fish and other animals often mistake them for food with disastrous consequences.

Cigarette butt litter is also a barometer of the number of people who smoke in the community, which, in turn, results in a separate chain of social and economic costs.

Sadly, the Hunter New England health district has the fourth highest rate of smoking in the state, with 17.7per cent of the region’s population lighting up.

Port Stephens Council is not the first authority to actively work to reduce cigarette butt pollution.

But while many have previously talked tough, they have not followed through with actions.

Port Stephens Council has indicated that it means business with a direction to rangers to enforce fines of between $60 and  $750.

While those who are caught littering may consider themselves harshly done by, most will probably welcome the council’s commitment to tackling one of the most stubborn pollution problems in our community.