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Cigarette Butts

Cigarette butts and smokers’ unawareness: a dangerous combination for environment and wildlife.

You have probably heard about plastic straws as the number one polluter of oceans and beaches but in reality, there is another devil responsible for it: cigarette butts. This type of litter source maintained their tradition as the top-ranked waste item worldwide since the 1990s, harming beaches, streets, sidewalks, water bodies, and public spaces. In a time where environmental activists are getting together to fight plastic pollution, this is a huge setback. 

Cigarette butt pollution is rising in our oceans.

Globally, the number of smokers is steadily increasing with global population growth corresponding to an increase in the number of cigarettes being smoked. Each year, approximately 4.5 trillion cigarette filters are discarded into the environment due to improper disposal attitudes of smokers. According to the reports of Ocean Conservancy, 2.4 million of them were collected in coastal cleanups in 2017 alone.

Why are cigarette  filters bad for the environment.

Cigarettes’ filters are typically made of cellulose acetate a plastic that takes decades to decompose in nature. Even after they do, they break down into tiny pieces of plastic, called microplastics and the toxin chemicals trapped inside can be leached out in ocean waters, harming the marine ecosystem.

Cigarette butts as the “Darth Vader” of wildlife.

A study from San Diego State University suggests that cigarette butts in water are toxic to fishwater fleas, and marine bacteria. Evidence shows that the chemicals leached out from smoked cigarette filters with some remaining tobacco are toxic to fish species at concentrations as low as one butt per liter of water. Nevertheless, also smoked butts without any residual tobacco and unsmoked filters were found to be toxic. 

Hidden danger for birds.

Researchers revealed that urban-dwelling birds like House Sparrows and House Finches use cigarette butts in their nests to get rid of parasites. Simply being in contact with the butts could also pose issues for birds, with toxic nests leading to genotoxic damage in such wildlife.

With so many harms to health and the environment, cigarette butts have raised many eyebrows in the last few years, leading to global campaigns to solve this pollution issue. There is actually a growing effort to minimize the plastic epidemic that cigarette butts pose.  In July 2019, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed a measure into law  that significantly limits smoking and vaping at public beaches and parks. In the same year, California State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson introduced a new bill to ban single-use filters in the state. 

 Government initiatives are necessary to make a real difference but consumers behaviours have a fundamental role in such a change.