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Meet the South Jersey veteran who's picked up more than 20,000 cigarette butts

This New Jersey vet is cleaning up his community, one cigarette butt at a time
This New Jersey vet is cleaning up his community, one cigarette butt at a time 02:15

CINNAMINSON, N.J. (CBS) — For the past two years, Jim Alturo has suited up and hit the streets of South Jersey.

The 70-year-old Air Force veteran, dressed in a neon vest and dark-colored gloves, started picking up trash near his neighborhood in Cinnaminson shortly after he retired.

"I do find a lot of plastic from lids and other trash on the ground," said Alturo, who added most of the trash he picks up are cigarette butts.

Alturo created a challenge for himself and started keeping track of how many butts he could collect in a year. He set a goal of collecting 15,000 cigarette butts, and to achieve that he increased his walks and quickly started finding more.

"Then, I said 18,000. Then, 20,000, and it got later in the year, and I said I'll never make 22,000. Well, I passed that, and I said 23,000 is the real stretch goal, and I blew by that," he said.

By the end of 2023, Alturo collected 24,185 cigarette butts, and he took it a step further by donating a penny to the American Lung Association for each butt he found.

Alturo also found $119.06 in loose change and bills on the ground over the year and donated that money too.

According to the American Lung Association, cigarette butts are the most discarded waste item in the world, totaling 1.6 billion pounds of waste each year, and officials said Alturo is making a difference.

"Tobacco contains toxic chemicals that are harmful to the environment, so what he is doing is really helping the environment along with bringing awareness," Caroline Hutchinson, the executive director of the American Lung Association, said.

"If you take a whiff, they really do smell bad," said Alturo, as he opened his plastic bag of discarded cigarettes.

This year, Alturo partnered with the American Lung Association and created "Jim's Cigarette Butt Challenge." His goal is to raise $35,000. He's off to a strong start, and he's hoping his effort will encourage people to throw out their trash properly and inspire more people to quit smoking.

"So, I think it's a movement that I hope picks up not only in this area but across the country," he said.

To join Jim's Cigarette Butt Challenge or donate, visit his page at'scigarettebuttchallenge.

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