Heavy rain poured down on Tofino Friday afternoon, drenching a hearty crew of volunteers who hit the soaking wet streets to clean up discarded cigarette butts.
“I am picking up butts for Surfrider so they don’t wash down the drains and get in the ocean,” said Al Anderson, who focused his efforts around Tofino’s skate park.
The event was hosted by the Surfrider Foundation’s Pacific Rim Chapter, which had invited all Tofino’s mayor and council candidates in Oct. 20’s municipal election and roughly nine of the 15 candidates running attended including mayoral candidates Jarmo Venalainen and incumbent mayor Josie Osborne as well as councillor candidates Britt Chalmers, Andrea McQuade, Tom Stere, Stephanie Kathleen Hughes, Christ Heisterman and incumbent councillor Al Anderson.
“We’re raising awareness about cigarette butt pollution as well as cleaning the town of cigarette butts,” said the foundation’s chapter manager Lilly Woodbury. “The two biggest reasons that we have pollution in the first place, is lack of awareness as well as lack of opportunity to recycle cigarette butts. So, today we’re doing both.”
Britt Chalmers said she’s always happy to support Surfrider.
“It’s a great way to bring awareness to picking up garbage as well as to get to know what’s going on in the community,” she said. “When Lilly asks me to help out with something, I can’t say no. She’s always got great jobs going on.”
Josie Osborne said the event provided an informal setting for the candidates to learn about each other while supporting a “terrific organization.”
“It’s the greatest kind of community service you can do for an amazing organization like Surfrider to raise awareness about the importance of taking care of cigarette butts and plastic pollution,” she said.
Jarmo Venalainen said it’s important to help keep Tofino clean.
“I came out because I love Tofino like the rest of the people that are out today and many others. We want to see our place comfortable and beautiful and clean,” he said.
Andrea McQuade said Surfrider provides a valuable link between Tofino’s environment, community and tourism economy.
“We invite a lot of people in and it’s beholden to the residents of this town to make sure that the town that people are invited to looks the way it does and to educate those on how to keep it that way,” she said.
Tom Stere said he’s been learning about Surfrider initiatives through his son Seth, a member of Surfrider Pacific Rim’s youth chapter and was happy to participate in the butt cleanup.
“This is an excellent event to get out there and raise awareness and I’m glad I can be here to help,” he said. “Plastics and recyclables in the environment is a huge issue and this is one component that we can bring to the attention of everybody to, hopefully, address the broader issues of pollution in the oceans in general.”
Stephanie Kathleen Hughes and Chris Heisterman teamed up to tackle the cigarette butts on Neil Street.
“It’s surprising how many there are. It’s actually quite astonishing,” Hughes said. “I think a lot of people don’t realize that cigarette butts are quite toxic. They are made of plastic and it takes approximately 25 years for a cigarette butt to break down in the environment and then you’re still looking at microplastics once that does break down. So, this is a really great initiative and I’m proud to be a part of it.”
Heisterman said he was happy to help bring awareness to both Surfrider’s efforts as well as Tofino’s cigarette butt problem.
“It’s amazing how many there are when you start looking and you can see them running through the rain water and that’s all going into the ocean,” he said. “It’s not good for the environment and, I think, it just kind of adds to a healthy culture when people are involved and having fun cleaning things up.”
In an email to the Westerly news after the event, Woodbury wrote that she estimated around 4,000 butts were picked up during the event, which will be sent to Terracycle to be recycled.
“We have some pretty outstanding community spirit in this town, this event in particular showcased this. Even on an extremely rainy Friday afternoon, people came together to restore the streets of Tofino from cigarette butt litter. In Tofino, community togetherness is galvanized by our love for this place; for the ecosystems that make our existence here possible,” she wrote.
“This event also cleaned the streets of butts, which was timely as we conducted the pick up in a down pour, right before the butts would be washed down the storm drains. Ideally, this event will direct more attention to the issue of cigarette butt pollution, so that we can continue lowering the amount of butts polluting the Pacific Rim.”
She added that, through Surfrider’s Hold On To Your Butt campaign, roughly 60 cigarette butt cannisters have been installed in Tofino and Ucluelet since 2017, which have led to about 200,000 cigarette butts being recycled by Terracycle.