Wal-Mart and Litter

Have you noticed the clusters of cigarette butts on our streets, sidewalks, beaches, playgrounds and other public places? There is a very good chance that those cigarettes were sold at Wal-Mart stores. There is also a very good chance that those butts wouldn’t have been littered if Wal-Mart cared enough to take even small steps in educating its millions of smoking customers about the environmental impact of cigarette litter, or if it even bothered to sell pocket ashtrays in its stores.

What Wal-Mart apparently wants to keep quiet is that tens of billions of cigarettes are littered across the United States every year. The filters are made of cellulose acetate tow, not cotton, and can take over ten years to decompose. The filters of littered cigarette butts release harmful chemicals into the environment and into our water supply. Littered cigarettes are also a leading cause of wildfires. And, of course, littered cigarette butts make our communities look filthy!

Wal-Mart sells billions of cigarettes a year and its wholly owned subsidiary, McLane Company (www.mclaneco.com), distributes billions more to convenience stores across the country. Yet Wal-Mart makes no effort whatsoever to help keep these cigarettes from trashing the very communities in which it does business. This corporate negligence runs counter to Wal-Mart’s self-proclaimed image as a community friendly, responsible corporation.

Fortunately, the solution for Wal-Mart is simple and could actually help their bottom line. With 48 million smokers in the United States alone, the personal ashtray business stands to be as profitable as the cigarette lighter business once smokers realize the need for proper cigarette disposal. By stocking these environmentally friendly products on their shelves and by funding educational programs, Wal-Mart will be making money and being a better corporate citizen at the same time.

Wal-Mart has refused to pick up the phone to talk about this issue. In an e-mail, they claimed to be selling “personal ashtrays”, but none could be found on their web site or in any of the stores we checked. We believe that rather than take the time to even understand what a personal (or pocket) ashtray is, they simply called the clunky table-top ashtrays you’d find in a restaurant “personal ashtrays.” Imagine trying to stick a big glass ashtray full of butts into your pocket or purse! This just goes to show what happens when companies are more concerned with PR than with truly helping communities solve real problems.

Wal-Mart also claimed to have spent $1.7 million on environmental issues, but none of that was spent on cigarette litter reduction efforts. While $1.7 million sounds like a lot to the average person, it is a very small fraction of Wal-Mart’s profits and also pales in comparison to the hundreds of millions of dollars that cigarette litter is estimated to cost the American public. While Wal-Mart can’t ensure that customers won’t litter, they have an obligation to shoulder some responsibility for the billions of cigarettes that leave their stores. Providing pocket ashtrays and education is a reasonable start.

How do we fix this problem? The more customers, stock holders, employees and regular people who let Wal-Mart know how they feel, the more likely Wal-Mart will be to do the right thing and take these basic steps. Please send an e-mail message to Wal-Mart by clicking on the link below.

Thanks for your support!