Don’t toss that butt … on the highway median, it can start a fire

Jul 12, 2022, 6:30 AM | Updated: 6:36 am

Photo by Gerardo Vieyra...

Photo by Gerardo Vieyra

With our sustained sunny and warm weather now underway, it’s time for a reminder to keep your cigarette butts in your car.

We see it every year. Once the consistent warm weather shows up, the grassy medians and hillsides along the freeways dry out and the fire danger goes up. That’s when the cigarettes come with risks beyond the standard lung cancer: a good chance of lighting that grass on fire when tossing your cigarette butts out of your window.

Tossed butts are a big problem and illegal, according to Washington’s litter prevention coordinator Amber Smith. “That is the number one, most commonly littered item today,” she said.

I reached out to the State Patrol to get some numbers on the problem. They reported 94 people were stopped for throwing cigarette butts out of their cars on freeways from Thurston to Skagit County last year. Most of those cigarettes were still lit. 24 people were ticketed. 70 were given warnings.

You can’t just assume that the ashes will be stamped out by passing tires. A lot of times those floating embers make it to the grass.

“They are a real pain for our litter crews to try and pick up on the road side,” Smith said.  “They’re so small that typically our crews have to make progress with the larger things and so not all of them get picked up.  They can lead to chemicals into the environment.  They are a wildfire risk.”

If you get caught tossing a lit cigarette butt, it can cost you $1,025.

Smith knows most cars don’t come with built-in ash trays, but she has some advice.

“One thing I would encourage people that smoke is to get a portable ashtray,” she said.   You can pick up a portable butt cup for as little as $5-10.

Check out more of Chris’ Chokepoints.


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Don’t toss that butt … on the highway median, it can start a fire