Sounding Off: Canyon nothing but an ashtray

Sadly, Laguna’s famous canyon is also its biggest ashtray

Butt, butt, butt "¦ and that was only in my first step. As I walked a new First Saturday cleanup route along our famous canyon with Tex Haines, owner of Victoria Skimboards, I didn’t see much “obvious" trash ahead. Until I looked down at my feet: Cigarette butts were strewn about every six to eight inches.

The devil has always been in the details and sure enough, as I continued toward the dog park, hundreds of discarded butts lined the highway. I really couldn’t believe my eyes. After an hour of “Picking It Up" easily the No. 1 trash item was cigarette butts!

A Los Angeles Public Works study estimated that more than 600,000 cigarette butts are thrown to the ground in L.A. each month. These butts aren’t sexy and they’re not just run-of-the-mill trash, either. Cigarette butts contain some of the nastiest chemicals and toxins on earth.


But by now smokers must know what the bad stuff the little brown filter is trying to keep out of their bodies, right?

Or at the very least, if they do know, maybe they’d consider sparing the watersheds and oceans of these contaminants. Because once in the ocean, guess who ingests it?

Check out the salacious stew of 4,000 chemicals captured within the filter tip of a cigarette, and consider that 51 of these are considered carcinogens "” cancer-causers: benzene, pesticides, formaldehyde (ironically used to preserve dead bodies), cadmium (a heavy metal), carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide (used in the Nazi gas chambers)

I picked up butt after insidious butt, until my hand hurt. I thought of the many natural wonders this gateway to Laguna has seen over the centuries "” indigenous people on rivers to the sea, pioneer stagecoaches from El Toro Road and citizen protests and fundraising events to Keep Laguna Canyon Wild.


Today, however, the canyon fights to stay wild and green, despite hundreds of attempts daily to burn it down at the hands of thoughtless smokers flicking butts from their car windows. And the relentless onslaught of cigarette butts carelessly tossed to the ground by people on foot.

It’s weird really, smokers will put up with the chemicals and smoke in their bodies, but not the butts in their car ashtrays.

As you leave Laguna, a sign stands to the right just before Anneliese’s School, colorfully asking smokers to “Use Your Ashtray"¦!" I used to think it meant “So You Won’t Start a Fire." Now I understand all that it really means.

Pick it up!

CHIP MCDERMOTT is a Laguna Beach resident and founder of