Cigarette butts: a tiny but harmful polluter to our planet.

What can you do to help?

 

Plastic bags, spoons, cups, and straws are widely known as environmental pollutants and get an increasing amount of attention every day. New innovations like polylactic acid (PLA) and water soluble plastic are on the rise to make problematic plastic disappear from the market. But there is one ignored pollutant – found on the corner of every street – the most disposed product in nature: the cigarette butt.

More than 5.5 trillion cigarettes are smoked every year around the world, and it’s estimated that over two-thirds are disposed of in the street. That’s over 3.6 trillion butts discarded – not only do these butts contain plastic, but they are also carry multiple toxic chemicals that seep into our environment.

Most damagingly, cigarette butts form the main pollutant in our marine ecosystems. Non-biodegradable, butts enter our canals, rivers, seas, and oceans, releasing toxins and wrecking our waterlife. In an international coastal cleanup, 19% of the debris were cigarettes. Food wrappers made up only 10%.

But cigarette butts are so tiny! How are they so harmful?

When tobacco is being grown, they are often contaminated with pesticides – that aren’t washed off properly when the tobacco is made into a cigarette. Next to the agricultural chemicals, the tobacco also releases a lot of other toxic chemicals when burned. The filters in cigarettes are designed to keep the most harmful toxins out of our lungs. But whenever these filters are disposed, we release these harmful chemicals into the environment. When it comes to cigarettes, the plastic is not even the biggest problem anymore – it’s the harm from which the plastic forms the carrier.

When our team became aware of this problem, we were curious to see how many discarded cigarette butts we could find. We formed a team of ten and crossed a lawn in Amsterdam East to see how many we could find. Within ten minutes we found over 1137 cigarette butts! Try this yourself sometime. When you walk across the streets, take a moment to count all the butts you can find within one minute. You will be astounded.

There are some initiatives that try to minimise the impact of discarded filters, like portable ashtrays and the DropPit – the on-the-ground ashtrays – but there are far too few. There is also very little knowledge among smokers, and non-smokers, about this problem too – and that should be fixed foremost.

So help us spread the knowledge! Provoke the discussion – even if you don’t smoke yourself. Make smokers aware of this problem so they can try to make a difference.