The most common object found during beach and waterway waste cleanup is cigarette butts. Even ashtray-toting smokers drop, flick and fling their butts. It’s not just unsightly, but cigarette butt litter harms the environment. The cellulose acetate plastic in cigarette filters leaches chemicals like arsenic and toxins into soil and waterways, and wildlife can swallow them, causing illness or death.
Carry a pocket ashtray
Cigarette butts are unsightly and costly to clean up, create fire hazards and contribute to water, soil, and air pollution. They can clog storm drains and cause fires, and they do not biodegrade.
The filter’s cellulose acetate plastic fibers leach harmful chemicals, including nicotine, arsenic, formaldehyde, lead, and cadmium, into the environment, posing risks to wildlife. While some responsible smokers may carry small pouches or tins as portable ashtrays, most simply toss, flick, fling, or drop their butts.
This behavior is littering, even if no laws against it have been broken. Educate smokers about the problem of cigarette butts by providing ash and trash receptacles.
Place containers at the entrances, exits, loading docks, sidewalks, walkways, and parking areas of your establishment. Host a cigarette butt cleanup. Volunteers can help increase awareness of the problem and the need to change societal attitudes towards smoking.
Stop waste: Put your cigarette butt where it belongs
Cigarette butts are more than an eyesore; they pollute the environment. Unsurprisingly, cigarette litter statistics showed that it is the number one most littered item collected during community cleanup events.
While some responsible smokers use small pouches or tins as ashtrays, the majority toss, flick and fling their butts. It is estimated that cigarette butts make up 20% of all littered items collected during cleanups.
The problem is not caused by people’s inability to afford a better ashtray but rather by the lack of public places to dispose of cigarette butts properly. Flicking a butt out a car window, placing them on the sidewalk or in a planter, or dropping them in waterways is considered litter and is against the law.
The filters of cigarette butts are made from cellulose acetate, a plastic that takes 12-15 years to biodegrade under severe biological conditions, like being collected in sewage. When littered, they leach toxic chemicals into the soil and water, contaminating our air and waterways.
Simple steps can greatly reduce cigarette butts on our streets and beaches. For example, businesses and organizations that host a lot of outdoor seating can install cigarette butt bins on their property. Studies have shown that for every cigarette butt container placed, the littering rate decreases by 9%.
Eliminating cigarette butt waste: Clean up
Cigarette butts and smoking-related litter are the single biggest source of ocean trash. They are toxic to aquatic life and can leach heavy metals into the water, causing disease and death.
They are also a fire hazard and have been linked to deadly wildfires. Keeping cigarette butts off the ground protects humans and animals, so making an effort to do so is part of showing compassion for the Earth. It also reduces the costs of sidewalk sweeping, street sweeping, park maintenance, and stormwater upkeep.
Cigarette waste can be recycled. Volunteers have been collecting and sending cigarette butts to TerraCycle since 2014 to be turned into plastic products like ashtrays and guitar picks. Other organizations organize community cleanups and encourage smokers to place their butts in appropriate receptacles.
Cigarette companies should invest in anti-litter campaigns and work to help educate smokers about the correct way to dispose of their waste, just as beverage manufacturers promote recycling and work to reduce litter. They should also consider offering a product stewardship fee on their tobacco products, similar to the soda bottle deposit.
Cigarette butts are a major component of litter and one of the top items volunteers collect during community cleanup initiatives. The filters, composed of cellulose acetate (also known as plastic), do not readily biodegrade and send tiny plastic fibers into the environment and waterways, where they can trap and hold chemicals like arsenic, benzene, and lead.
Montreal, for example, has been battling the problem by charging smokers a small anti-litter tax on canned and bottled beverages, using these funds to support anti-litter efforts. California hopes to pass a similar bill on cigarette purchases, an approach called “product stewardship.”
Research has shown that some smokers may not realize their actions are causing harm. Cigarette butts are unsightly, costly to clean up, and a fire hazard. They are a threat to wildlife and can contaminate drinking water. Additionally, they can harm nonsmokers’ health and potentially poison humans and animals that come into touch with them.
A graphic design and environmental studies professor decided to try something different to change attitudes about cigarette butt littering. His students created funny anti-litter advertisements for their college radio station, and the videos went viral. They showed smokers that their actions could be damaging and encouraged them to take responsibility for their behavior.
Have you thought much about cigarette butt waste? What else is on your mind regarding the environment?