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8News Investigates: How Much Do We Spend Each Year Cleaning Up Litter?

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Watch 8News Anchor Kerri O'Brien's full report on how much you're spending to clean up litter in our area each year...the amount may surprise you. It's coming up tonight at 11, only on 8News!

Richmond, VA—Each year, billions of dollars are spent picking up plastic bags, cigarette butts and litter across the country; central Virginia is no exception. 8News investigated how much citizens in our area shell out each year to pick up trash that people dump in ditches, sidewalks and waterways...the amount is staggering.

"I see fast food debris, beer cans, liquor bottles cigarette butts…" Richmond resident Anne Riordan ticked off the list of debris she sees near her home on a regular basis. "If that's gets into the water system, it's really harmful; it's frustrating, it's just frustrating."

One of the trash items Ann named, cigarette butts, is the number one item city and county volunteer clean-up crews pick up.

Mike Baum, Executive Director of Keep VA Beautiful, told 8News that it takes a good deal of time and money to fight Virginia's littering problem. "It really does take a lot of resources whether it is individual or dollars to combat this problem."

In 2012, Chesterfield, Henrico and the City of Richmond spent $1,799,502 to clear litter from roads, sidewalks and parks. Every cent of that is made up of taxpayer dollars.

County officials told 8News that the figure would have been significantly higher, if not for volunteer groups who work tirelessly cleaning up the trash that others leave behind.

One of the key pieces of litter folks leave behind? Cigarette butts. Mr. Baum shared with 8News,"It is estimated about 38-40 percent of all litter is cigarette butts."  Our hidden cameras caught person after person casually flicking butts into ditches and on sidewalks.

Delegate Joe Morrissey wants Virginians to kick the cigarette butt littering habit with his "No Butts" bill. The proposed legislation would formally classify cigarette butts as litter, and enable those caught tossing them onto the streets to be fined.

"We put 12 Olympic-sized swimming pools of cigarette butts into the Chesapeake Bay every year," Del. Morrissey revealed.

That much waste has serious environmental consequences: "It's made of acetate; it takes 12 years to decompose, it contains carcinogens," explained Del. Morrissey.

Executive Director of Keep Henrico Beautiful Hallie Boisseau agrees. "Animals can get out there and think it's a habitat and get trapped inside and think it is food and ingest it and it's toxic to them."

Smokers who don't know how to properly dispose of their butts should invest in a pocket ashtray.

The pocket ashtray is small enough to carry everyone you go, and smokers can put  butts inside of it until they can dispose of them in a trash can. 8News found pocket ashtrays being sold online for as little as $4.00.

Whether a bottle, plastic bag or cigarette butt is tossed onto the ground, all Virginians will have to pay for it to be cleaned up. Do the environment—and your fellow taxpayers—a favor: pick up and throw away your trash.

Copyright 2013 by Young Broadcasting of Richmond

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