For what began as a personal campaign against a pet hate while studying in Barcelona, Majorcan Miquel Garau is now the face of what has become a leading global campaign to not only rid beaches of cigarette butts but also change the world’s mindset towards the disposal of litter in general.
Currently based and working in Poland, where his campaign has also taken off, Miquel is spending his family holiday in Majorca organising a series of beach clean-ups.
The latest, which took place this week and involved people of all nationalities, smokers and non-smokers, resulted in a "mountain of shame" being built from 260,000 cigarette butts collected on Can Pere Antoni beach in 18 hours. It all began in October 2016.
"I was a student in Barcelona and all of a sudden became aware of all the cigarette butts which were being tossed onto the streets of the city. 99% per cent of smokers either walking or standing outside their office buildings were just stubbing them out on the streets. It became something of an obsession and then, one day, I was riding my motorbike when a driver tossed his cigarette out of his car window and it hit my helmet; that was the straw which broke the camel’s back for me. At the time I was watching a series of YouTube videos about being a personal trainer and coach and I thought if I’m working eight hours a day, why don’t I dedicate a free hour of my time collecting cigarette butts. So, I began going out with an empty large water bottle and gloves.
"At first I thought people would think I was the local nutter, but I decided to have some t-shirts printed with the slogan ‘No más colillas en el suelo’ (no more butts on the ground) and people began to take notice of what I was doing. In fact, I filmed some footage of the piles of butts outside one of Barcelona’s largest office blocks and posted in on YouTube. Two months later, and two large industrial ashtrays had been placed outside. I don’t know if they saw my video, but I have my suspicions and that spurred me and my twin brother, who has been a great support, to the launch the Facebook site ‘No más colillas en el suelo Mallorca’. Since then, it has attracted the attention of people all over the world and we now have 20 global ambassadors in various countries doing the same thing. We even have an international day when we all go out and clean local beaches.
"Following my efforts in Barcelona, I was due to come on holiday to Majorca, but I decided that I couldn’t come to the island and do nothing. So I began picking up cigarette butts off the beaches during my holiday, and I have carried on every time I return with my Polish wife and children on holiday.
"Slowly, we are changing people’s attitudes towards disposing of waste when in public places or on beaches. The trouble is, while we all have two legs and arms, some people’s heads don’t function as they should.
"In the case of Spain, I think that people have grown up seeing their parents or grandparents flick their butts away in the streets, etc. and have simply followed suit. This is what we are working on changing, and it’s working. It’s not just cigarette butts. For example, you have just left the gym, eat a banana and, knowing the skin is biodegradable, you just toss it away. That’s not the point.
"I, and I am sure many millions of other people, don’t want to walk around cities and towns, trampling over other people’s waste. When it comes to cigarette butts, you go back to your nice clean home thinking that your shoes are clean, but they’re not. If you’ve been crushing cigarette butts all day, the soles of your shoes are toxic, they are bringing cancerous germs into your home. So, tossing butts away is polluting the air, sea and land with cancerous toxins. The consequences are highly dangerous to our health and the overall sustainable well-being of the environment. In Barcelona, for example, the streets in the centre are cleaned three times a day, but they soon fill up with butts, fast food wrappers and other types of trash. What’s wrong with using the municipal ashtrays or waste bins?
"Smoke-free beaches, fine, but who are the enforcers? It’s not simply a question of banning smoking on a handful of beaches, it’s a question of making people understand the implications and encouraging smokers to take a portable ashtray to the beach or simply put their butts in a plastic bag and then deposit them in a waste bin. I’m not asking people to make a great effort, it’s really quite simple and, for me, common sense and decency. We all like to go to a clean beach, we all want a clean planet, so do something about it.
"Sadly, while the police, politicians and local authorities applaud the campaign, they do nothing to help. You know when you get caught for speeding you’ve been driving too fast and will have to pay a penalty. Litter louts are supposed to be fined. But do you know anyone who has been? No. So, until the laws are enforced - I’ve seen threats of fines of over 400 euros on some beaches for leaving litter and cigarette ends - I don't see anyone being brought to task by the authorities.
"For example, in Paris, the fine for dropping litter is 67 euros. I’ve witnessed people getting caught and being made to pay the penalty - they will not be doing it again that’s for sure. But the trouble is, especially with local politicians, they spend 80 per cent of the time criticising each other, which is the easy option. When they do agree on something, like helping to keep beaches clean, for example, they seem incapable of agreeing to do something about it; they all have their own agendas.
"That also applies to the scores of environmental groups in Spain and around the world. I’ve been in touch with the likes of Greenpeace, but they’ve got their own campaigns and they differ from those of other green organisations. So, in the end, so much effort is wasted. They all want the same end result but want to do it their way. Why can’t we all join forces when we have a common goal? It would be so much easier and much more effective and successful."
Not only have he and his supporters been out on the beaches, he has organised a host of stunts to attract and increase people’s awareness. He ran 10 kilometres carrying a large bottle full of collected cigarette. He has also encouraged people who go out on their own, or with a group of friends, to collects butts off the beaches and to always take a picture of themselves with the campaign’s slogan on their bags or containers and post it on the campaign’s Facebook.
"That has, and is, working really well because people who have taken part can honestly say ‘I love my beach and I have helped clean it’, especially here in Majorca, where we have some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.
"I will be continuing with my quest. I’m not sure if I will organise one more mass event in Majorca before the end of my holidays, but my dream is for Greenpeace to pick up on the campaign and run with it. That way it would have much greater impetus and would reach a much wider global audience. Then we wouldn’t have to do the jobs of the police and the politicians."
For further information visit: No más colillas en el suelo Mallorca on Facebook.