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Mind the butt

A unique and quirky art installation aimed at creating awareness around an unknown plastic pollutant and its risk has hit beaches and popular attractions around the country.

The Kiickbutt initiative was initiated more than a year ago but gained momentum over the last month.

The initiative is aimed at simulating the magnitude of damage created by irresponsible disposal of the cigarette butts and what animals encounter as they come across the butts in nature.

The 19 life-sized butts are created from decommissioned telephone poles, spray-painted to resemble cigarette butts.

Clive Amsel, WRAPP CEO, installation artist and environmentalist, says many people do not realise the cigarette butts are actually made of plastic and are one of National Geographic’s top listed plastic pollutants in the world.

While they may look like white cotton, the basis of most cigarette filters is a plastic named cellulose acetate, which can take up to 10 years to fully decompose.

The environmental risk is increased in the fact that filters are designed to absorb the contaminants in cigarettes and prevent them from going into the lungs. These contaminants include cadmium, arsenic and lead which are then released into waterways or ingested by animals.

“We chose areas that are environmentally sensitive, but also areas where people tend to smoke and leave their butts,” says Amsel. “As you walk along the beach or take a hike anywhere in the country, you will find cigarette butts scattered all over the place, defacing the natural beauty of your surroundings.”

Amsel recently also collected a 2F bottle full of butts while hiking up the Platteklip Gorge trail.

The identified areas included Lion’s Head, Llandudno, Table View, Scarborough, Fish Hoek, Platteklip Gorge, Kommetjie and Umhlanga beaches, Tokai, Zeekoevlei and the Cederberg mountains.

The installation is funded by WRAPP waste who were motivated to get involved through their passion for responsible waste removal. Amsel says the installation will be around until June and move to other locations, weather dependent.

“It seems like a small thing but it has a butterfly effect, a lot of small things add up to a big problem,” says Amsel.

Another area of focus is the CBD, as Amsel says many drivers discard of their butts on sidewalks and out car windows.

“This enters the stormwater systems, goes out to sea and affects our marine life and shellfish. We end up eating that,” he says.

The butts have already caused a stir and Amsel hopes it will change people’s minds about irresponsible disposal of their cigarette butts, and decrease the toxic waste caused by discarded cigarette butts.

It is estimated that 18 million cigarettes are smoked around the world daily.

“It is a personal choice whether or not to smoke, but at least throw the discarded cigarette butts into the nearest waste bin,” he says. “We are not educating people against smoking, but rather to discard butts in a dust bin or controlled environment.”

Aside from the toxicity, the butts also pose a major fire risk.

One of the biggest reported veld fires which started on Table Mountain in 2007 was caused by a tourist who discarded a smouldering cigarette butt out of his car window.

Amsel says they have enough funding to run until June and hope to secure additional funding to assist them in continuing at more locations beyond this date.

V Follow the Kiickbutt initiative on Facebook and Instagram for more.

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