One of the most common types of litter on the earth is cigarette butts. Each year, nearly 4.5 trillion cigarettes are left lying throughout the world.
The filters in cigarettes are made of cellulose acetate, a plastic that takes decades to degrade in nature. It means they pollute soils and water sources and are harmful to fish.
Cigarette butts are a common litter item on beaches and in waterways. They pose a severe threat to marine ecosystems because they contain microplastics and heavy metals that negatively impact the health of fish, seabirds, mammals, plants, and reptiles.
These pollutants enter the food chain and can cause long-term mortality in marine life, including birds and mammals, and can affect human health. They also release harmful chemicals that can contaminate water and soils.
Tobacco smoke is a harmful, carcinogenic, addictive, and highly mutagenic substance. It causes many serious health problems and is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, lung cancer, stroke, and some types of congenital disabilities.
In addition, cigarette smoke contains hundreds of toxic chemicals for humans and the environment. These include arsenic, lead, cadmium, chromium, and other heavy metals. These substances can contaminate drinking water and food; a single cigarette butt can contaminate 1 liter of water.
While cigarette butts are not biodegradable, they can break down into smaller pieces over time. It is due to a chemical called cellulose acetate, which makes up the filter portion of the cigarette. This material is not broken down by sunlight and can decompose for up to ten years. However, if the cigarette is adequately disposed of, it will be less likely to pose a risk to the environment.
They’re Easy To Clean
Millions of cigarette butts are littered daily on streets, storm drains, and beaches. These are not just unsightly; they are toxic to fish and birds and can leach into water sources used for drinking.
These butts contain the chemicals tobacco companies use to make cigarettes – nicotine, formaldehyde, benzene, chromium, cadmium, and other carcinogens. They are also packed with pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides.
Even if adequately disposed of, they can still be very dangerous to the environment. Cigarette butts are made of standard manufactured plastic (cellulose acetate) and are not biodegradable.
They can take up to 10 years to decompose and can release toxic chemicals into the soil and water. Moreover, they can also be eaten by fish and other animals that mistake them for food.
It leads to an increase in microplastic pollution, which is a severe problem around the world. In addition to being a serious environmental threat, littering cigarette butts can be a health risk for children and adults who ingest them.
Some communities have started building ash receptacles to promote appropriate cigarette butts recycling to stop this from happening. In one pilot project, Caltrans discovered that adding more ash receptacles to rest areas led to a 5.5 percent decrease in on-site cigarette butt disposal and storm drain runoff.
They’re Not Toxic
Millions of cigarettes and tobacco leftovers are thrown into the environment daily. We tend to focus on the usual suspects (plastic straws, coffee cups, plastic bags), but cigarette butts are just as toxic to our planet.
Cigarette butts are made from cellulose acetate, a type of plastic that is not biodegradable. They are also extremely hazardous to wildlife, especially marine mammals such as sea turtles and Black Skimmers.
They can be poisonous to marine life because they are toxic to fish and other aquatic organisms that eat them. They leach heavy metals into the water and organic chemicals that can clog fish gills.
This waste is a significant contributor to a storm drain trash and ocean litter. In addition, discarded cigarette butts are linked to wildfires and other environmental hazards.
Despite their harmful environmental effects, many still think cigarette butts are biodegradable and should be disposed of as ordinary trash. To determine whether the general public shares this belief, we asked participants to respond to the statement “Cigarette butts are not biodegradable” (yes, no, or don’t know).
Overall, a majority of participants agreed that butts are not biodegradable. There were no significant differences among gender, racial groups, or smoking status (X2 (2, n = 6886) = 6.7, p = 0.26). White participants were more likely to agree than Black/African-American participants.
They’re Easy To Store
Cigarette butts are one of the most unsightly and dangerous forms of litter, tossed on streets, beaches, and parks. They can easily be blown or washed down storm drains and into waterways, polluting local waters.
The UN estimates that 4.5 trillion cigarette butts are littered each year, making them the world’s most prolific form of marine litter. They are not just unsightly – they are toxic to marine and freshwater wildlife and pose a risk to human health because they release chemicals when ingested.
However, there are ways that people can help curb cigarette littering. In particular, smokers should be made aware that cigarette butts are harmful to the environment and should be encouraged to dispose of their butts properly.
It can be done through public education, implementing anti-littering laws that fine those who litter, and cigarette manufacturers devoting resources to cleaning cigarette butts.
A recent study found that smokers’ attitudes towards cigarette butts and disposal habits are linked to past littering behavior. When participants were asked to describe their past littering behavior, those who smoked more often and carried a personal pocket ashtray were less likely to perceive cigarette butts as harmful to the environment than those who didn’t smoke as much or who never tossed a cigarette butt on the ground.