Natural Resources, School of


First Advisor

Mark E. Burbach

Date of this Version



Miller, M., R. (2017). Understanding cigarette butt littering behavior on public beaches: A case study of Jekyll Island, Georgia (Master of Science).


A THESIS Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Master of Science, Major: Natural Resource Sciences, Under the Supervision of Professor Mark E. Burbach. Lincoln, Nebraska: August, 2017

Copyright (c) 2017 Maranda R. Miller



The world’s natural environment is degrading, and human behavior is a leading cause. Therefore, in order to address environmental problems it is important to understand the factors driving environmentally degrading behaviors and subsequently design behavioral interventions to alter undesirable behaviors.

One environmental issue of particular concern is toxins leeching from trash. Specifically, cigarette butts are of concern due to their prevalence in the environment. Cigarette butt discarding behavior is affected by personal attributes, but data regarding which personal attributes and how these affect discarding behavior is lacking. This thesis seeks to understand cigarette butt disposal on public beaches by exploring “what influences smokers to improperly discard cigarette butts when visiting a public beach?”

A mixed mode design utilized quantitative and qualitative data to study improper cigarette butt disposal. A questionnaire was designed to test theories related to place attachment, environmental attitudes, habits, and environmental awareness as predictors of improper cigarette butt disposal. A qualitative inquiry further explored the phenomenon of cigarette butt littering from the participant’s point of view.

Environmental attitudes, environmental awareness, and habits were significant predictors of improper cigarette butt disposal behavior. Interviews illustrated that “improper disposers” experienced themes involving uncertainty that cigarette butts are litter, a lack of knowledge, problems with cigarette receptacles currently in place, the requirement of a conscious choice about how to discard a “butt,” and statements that contradicted the behavior observed. Interviews with “proper disposers” illustrated themes that cigarette butts are litter, awareness of social constructs, cumulative effects of cigarette butts on the beach, minimal obstacles to discarding properly, and feelings of personal responsibility.

Recommendations for decreasing improper cigarette butt disposal include: promoting pro-environmental attitudes, altering habitual improper discarding behaviors, promoting environmental awareness of how cigarette butts negatively impact the environment, minimizing barriers to proper discarding, increasing place attachment, and changing policies about cigarette receptacles on beaches.

Adviser: Mark E. Burbach