Our RMTPP 2023 summer intern Jazzmyn Conners was at Hart Park for one day looking around and cleaning up cigarette butts. Read further to learn more about their perspective during their adventure and how they felt about finding cigarette butts throughout Hart Park:
Jazzmyn Conners, Pueblo Acama
Senior at East Bakersfield High School
Lives in Bakersfield, CA
Pictured in front of a bridge remembrance sign for Paul Woollomes at Hart Park located in
Hart Park, a serene oasis nestled amidst bustling life, holds a special place in the hearts of my family and me. My recent visit to this beautiful park was an engaging and enlightening experience, as my mother and I embarked on a mission to clean up discarded cigarette butts that destroyed the park's natural beauty. While our efforts brought a sense of accomplishment, the disheartening sight of cigarette butts near the peacock enclosure and floating in the water near the geese served as a poignant reminder of the detrimental impact of tobacco pollution on our ecosystem.
As we stepped into Hart Park that sunny morning, the verdant landscape and the tranquil atmosphere immediately captured our senses. However, it didn't take long for our attention to shift to the unsightly litter scattered on the ground - cigarette butts that seemed to have become an unfortunate part of the scenery. According to the Truth Initiative (2023), “1,134,292 cigarette butts were cleaned from beaches and waterways in 2021.” Knowing this, I wasn’t too surprised but still grim about the appearance of so many cigarette butts on the ground. Determined to contribute to the park's cleanliness, my mother and I decided to take matters into our own hands.
Armed with gloves and trash bags, we began our cleanup mission in which we found about 20-25 cigarette butts in the end. The act of picking up discarded cigarette butts, one by one, connected us not only with the natural surroundings but also with a sense of responsibility towards our environment. Engaging in this hands-on activity made us acutely aware of the small actions that can collectively lead to a cleaner and healthier planet. Especially because things like this can also harm the animals. According to Santora (2023), “Even when they don’t cause death in wildlife, eating cigarette butts can lead to nausea, vomiting, and seizures. Birds might be at a greater risk because their small size and fast metabolism means they absorb nicotine and other chemicals faster, requiring less toxins to cause harm.” This is a huge problem since Hart Park harbors so many living creatures who are able and will eat cigarette butts not knowing the consequences.
Amidst our cleaning efforts, our joy was momentarily overshadowed by a disheartening discovery near the peacock enclosure. To our dismay, there were numerous cigarette butts strewn carelessly close to the enclosure. Peacocks, with their vibrant plumage and regal demeanor, symbolize beauty and grace. As well as according to an article titled A Party of Peacocks: 8 Things You Didn’t Know About the Beautiful Bird (n.d.), “Peafowl live a long time – between 10 and 25 years in the wild and up to 50 years in captivity” Knowing this it would be extremely disheartening to see them be murdered by something as small as a cigarette butt. The cigarette butts contrasting the beautiful peafowls show us that witnessing their habitat tainted by discarded cigarette waste had highlighted the contradiction between the serene beauty of nature and the thoughtlessness of human actions.
Our engagement with Hart Park's natural wonders took a somber turn when we noticed cigarette butts polluting the water near a flock of geese. The water, once a mirror of tranquility, now bore the burden of tobacco pollution. Geese, often seen as symbols of freedom and migration, were navigating an environment tainted by human negligence. This sight deeply resonated with the alarming truth - that commercial tobacco pollution has the power to disrupt even the most pristine corners of our ecosystem. According to another article titled 5 Ways Cigarette Litter Impacts the Environment (2019), “Littered cigarette butts leach toxic chemicals—such as arsenic (used to kill rats) and lead, to name a few—into the environment and can contaminate water. The toxic exposure can poison fish, as well as animals who eat cigarette butts.” This is so sad to know because all of the animal life living in those waters could all be in detrimental health because of the cigarette butts.
As we continued our cleanup, the prevalence of cigarette butts weighed heavily on our minds. Reflecting on the broader issue, it became evident that our experience was not an isolated incident. The proliferation of cigarette waste signifies a larger problem of environmental degradation caused by commercial tobacco consumption. The toxic chemicals present in cigarette filters leach into the environment, affecting soil and water quality and posing a grave threat to wildlife. According to Berkley University Health Services (n.d.), “toxic compounds in cigarette butts can include formaldehyde, nicotine, arsenic, lead, copper, chromium, cadmium, and a variety of polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).” These are extremely harmful chemicals to things like animals and plant life which Hart Park is bustling with.
Therefore, my time at Hart Park turned out to be more engaging and thought-provoking than I had anticipated. By cleaning cigarette butts, my mother and I connected with nature in a meaningful way while also confronting the alarming consequences of tobacco pollution on our ecosystem. The juxtaposition of serene natural beauty with the jarring sight of cigarette waste serves as a poignant reminder of the urgent need for collective action to combat the detrimental impact of commercial tobacco on our environment. Hart Park's lessons will stay with me as a testament to the power of individual efforts in nurturing our planet's health and beauty.
A Party of Peacocks: 8 Things You Didn’t Know About the Beautiful Bird. (n.d.). Brightly.
Did you know? | University Health Services. (n.d.).
Santora, T. (2023, February 21). Disturbing photo shows a black skimmer feeding a cigarette
butt to its chick. Audubon.
5 ways cigarette litter impacts the environment. (2019). In Truth Initiative.