Senator Saviello, Representative Tucker, and members of the Joint Standing Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, my name is Ryan Parker and I am the Environmental Policy Outreach Coordinator for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. I appreciate this opportunity to testify in support of LD 931 with the amended language introduced by Representative Blume.
The proposed amendment provides a comprehensive approach to tobacco product litter (TPL), which is a growing problem throughout Maine. Just as important, this bill seeks to address the more general, but no less problematic, issue of what seems to be complacency about litter and littering. Although Maine has achieved significant progress in addressing litter through our bottle redemption law, we still have a long way to go in addressing many other sources of litter—including tobacco product litter.
How big is this problem in Maine specifically?
Evidence of the problem is abundant. Cigarette butts litter our streets, sidewalks, parking lots, beaches, and parks. Concentrations can be found outside convenience stores, at stoplights, and in front of bars, movie theaters, and restaurants. In short, we all see them everywhere, because they are everywhere. But there is also ample data about the scope of this problem.
Included with this testimony, along with citations for several relevant studies, is financial data from the Maine Revenue Service. Using this data we can calculate that more than 65 million packs of cigarettes were sold in Maine in 2016. This amounts to more than 1.2 billion cigarettes. Applying the consistent results of studies and surveys mentioned below, we can safely assume that approximately 970 million cigarette butts are improperly discarded directly into Maine’s environment every year. Studies show that tobacco litter is a pervasive problem nationwide, with consistent patterns of behavior by smokers. Globally, 19% of coastal litter is from tobacco products. Tobacco product waste constitutes between 23% and 37% of litter in cities throughout the United States and North America. Tobacco companies and independent researchers have found that more than 75% of smokers do not believe cigarette butts are litter, and, therefore, improperly dispose of them directly into the environment. These studies deal with visible TPL.
But this form of litter is not just an aesthetic problem. It has significant environmental impacts.
Due in part to the leadership of this Committee, the 127th Legislature passed a landmark law to keep plastic microbeads from entering Maine’s fresh and coastal waters. That was a critical step in reducing the amount of plastic in Maine’s environment, and there is a lot of it. But cigarette butts are not like other litter.
More than 90% of cigarette filters, and therefore cigarette butts, are made of plastic, specifically cellulose acetate. Like other plastics, the tiny fibers in cigarette butts do not biodegrade; rather, they break down into even smaller particles through UV degradation. However, unlike some other plastic litter, TPL contains a host of other toxins that harm wildlife and water quality. Studies have shown tobacco product litter contains nicotine and heavy metals like lead, arsenic, and cadmium, just to name a few. These and as many as 400 other toxic materials are concentrated into the plastic in the filter. Studies show these toxins begin leaching from the plastic within 24 hours when TPL is submerged in water, and this leaching occurs for up to ten years per cigarette butt in the environment. The toxicity of this leachate has also been studied using standard acute fish toxicity methodologies. One study found that a single cigarette butt per liter of water was acutely toxic to two different fish species, one freshwater and one marine species.
The data and science corroborated by now numerous studies is, frankly, terrifying, especially in a state like Maine where we depend on clean water, forests, and countless locations and activities that we hope will be aesthetically pleasing for visitors. But the mechanisms to recycle tobacco product waste already exist and new ideas are under development. Recently patented technologies can turn the plastic filters into a coating that can be applied inside industrial piping to protect it from corrosion, making it last longer. A company in New Jersey collects this waste and transforms it into useable composite products that can be used for things like railroad ties and shipping pallets.
Furthermore, Maine has a homegrown, highly successful method for collecting tobacco product waste and keeping it separate from other waste, which, as members of this Committee know from dealing with other materials, increases the material’s value and usability. Mike Roylos has invented the Cigarette Buttler, which is manufactured and sold right here in Maine. These receptacles already have resulted in the collection and recycling of shocking numbers of cigarette butts in Portland that otherwise would have washed into storm drains and out into Casco Bay.
This bill accomplishes those goals, while also providing opportunities for communities and health organizations to continue to raise awareness about the need and opportunity for people to stop smoking in the first place.
NRCM strongly supports the proposed amendment to the bill because it provides a comprehensive approach to addressing the major tobacco product litter problem in Maine, and a sensible way to pay for it. We commend Representative Blume for her interest in addressing the growing problems created by litter, specifically tobacco product litter. The amendment provides a strong basis for action by the Committee. We have two additional ideas that the Committee might want to consider during the work session on the bill.
- Consider increasing the tax on cigarettes. While the framework outlined in the proposed amendment is good, another option for funding the program would be to increase the existing cigarette tax by one cent per pack, which would raise the current $2/pack tax to $2.01/pack. This would prevent a loss of revenue to the General Fund. One cent per pack would be barely noticeable to the consumer, but collectively would provide nearly $650,000 for this fund.
- Create a broader education program. Because roadside litter remains a pervasive problem in Maine, the Committee may want to create a more robust, statewide, anti-littering education program. If the Committee was to amend the language to make the total additional tax $0.02 per pack, still a miniscule amount for individual customers, the additional $0.01 per pack revenue could be used for a greater public awareness campaign against litter. This is something that the DEP has suggested is necessary and we concur.
We share these ideas with the hope that they might help you shape a bill that earns broad Committee support. Thank you for this opportunity to provide comments in support of LD 931. I would be glad to answer any questions you may have.
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