It starts with me

by Jenny Yarborough
Thursday, September 16, 2010

Staff photo by Bethany Otten

Danielle Richardet, mother, helps two of her children, Henri and Claire, pick up cigarette butts for 20 minutes each time they visit the beach. This is the Richardet’s personal initiative to promote a smoking ban on the beach. Claire picks them up with her toes because she says she doesn’t want to get her hands dirty.

Danielle Richardet, 32-year-old Wilmington mother of three, doesn’t smoke. But inside her garage, sealed shut in old orange juice and milk jugs, are 2,937 cigarette butts, and by now, probably even more.

Richardet was inspired by "The Daily Ocean," a blog site that follows Sara Bayles, a Santa Monica, Calif. woman. Bayles ventures to the nearest beach and during 20-minute intervals picks up, photographs, weighs and records the misplaced matter to find out just how much litter was produced within a year and how much of a difference one person could actually make in 365 days. Richardet, who had already planned a family vacation to the West Coast, decided to meetup with Bayles.

While Richardet, her husband, Aaron, sons Chase, 8, and Henri, 4, and daughter Claire, 6, were in Santa Monica picking up other people’s trash, Richardet said she kept noticing the emblem placed on all of the trash cans. On each one was a picture of a palm tree, a surf board and a cigarette butt and a question that read: "Which one of these doesn’t belong?"

Picking up litter for 20 minutes, Richardet said she saw no evidence of cigarettes and through her field trip with Bayles she later learned that this was because it is no longer legal to smoke cigarettes on the beach in Santa Monica.

"I thought, ‘how cool would that be?’ " Richardet said, to no longer have to see cigarette butt after cigarette butt lining the ridges of the dunes and peppering the rest of the sand, streets and waters of Wrightsville Beach, where she often goes to relax.

So Richardet launched her mission. She was to follow the footsteps of Bayles, visiting the beach for just 20 minutes on the days when she found time, with her children and sometimes with her husband, and pick up what they could and document with photographs and weights. From there, she would report back to Bayles and also keep her own records on a blog she runs about keeping her carbon footprint small, called "It Starts with Me."

Through her own virtual laboratory she found just what she suspected—more cigarette butts than other trash. And she began accounting for each and every butt she found.

"On day seven, I was at 310 cigarette butts per day and that’s just in the 20 minutes," Richardet said.

According to her calculations, that’s equivalent to 15 butts per minute.

Each year, our country litters somewhere around 7 trillion cigarette butts a year. While most people are courteous enough not to litter, it has been commonplace for smokers to flick the small butts out the window while driving or crush them into the ground.

While Richardet’s aim in recording and hoarding the butts is to physically put them in the faces of town aldermen at a later date in hopes of passing a ban on smoking on the beach, Richardet does admit she doesn’t want to intrude on people’s rights.

"The filter’s the issue," she said. "They’re made from plastic."

Her husband, furthered, "These things never go away because they’re plastic."

On day nine, Richardet visited Public Beach Access No. 37 with her entire family.

"I don’t think I’m reinventing the wheel. Everybody does beach sweeps," she said.

But by blogging and collecting, she said, "I think, in a sense, it creates a type of community."

And she hopes with what she begins, others may follow.

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