The planet is crumbling under cigarette butts
A number that speaks for itself : some 4 500 billions of cigarette butts end up in the nature every year. It means 137 000 stubs thrown away per second ! Which makes it the most common waste in the world. In the United States, they represent 1/3 of the total annual of wastes collected.
An ordinary waste ? Far from it. Toxic and non biodegradable, cigarette butts are a major source of pollution. It is difficult to handle that kind of waste : thrown away unexpectedly, anywhere and at anytime, cigarette butts easily escape the collection system, when it exists. In the wild indeed, there is no waste collection.
This problem covers many others : the waste of the public funds which has to organize collection solutions, but also the major issue of the environment pollution.
As a reminder, cigarette is also a sanitary scourge, and happens to be responsible for numerous illnesses, among them lungs and throat cancers, and cardiovascular diseases. Every year, smoking leads to the death of 73 000 people in France, and 7 millions in the world. Among them, incorrigible smokers, occasional smokers, as well as passive smoking victims.
Poor populations are particularly affected. In south countries, the tobacco industry restrains the development and weaken the economy. To the health expenses to treat diseases induced by smoking, adds up the cost of cigarettes. Moreover, people working in this field are often badly paid. Since a few years, we finally start to notice the impact of cigarettes on the environment.
The cigarette filter, main culprit
Cigarette butt autopsy : filter and toxic products
After consumption, only a small part of the cigarette is left, the butt, where the filter can be found. Filters were introduced by the tobacco industry in the fifties. They help to hold the nicotine and tar while the consumer smokes, in order to diminish the percentage absorbed by the organism. Are they efficient or useful ? In reality, we noticed that smokers are pulling even more on their cigarette, which balance the filter’s action.
We find in a cigarette not less than 4 000 substances, including 250 harmful for the health and 50 carcinogenic. The majority of these substances accumulates slowly in the filter. Thus, butts contain a wide variety of toxically product : nicotine, traces of pesticides, phenol, ammonia, cadmium, arsenic and other heavy metals such as mercury, lead…
Cigarette butt, a non biodegradable waste
Cigarette butts are non biodegradable, only the paper around them are. Unlike what they look like, filters are not made of cotton but of cellulose acetate. It is a plastic material used to make sunglasses for example. They are photodegradable, which means they decompose in thousands of micro-plastic particles when exposed to the sun ultraviolet rays. It take them until 15 years to deteriorate, according to the environment conditions, soil quality and the
Cigarette butts are non biodegradable, only the paper around them are. Unlike what they look like, filters are not made of cotton but of cellulose acetate. It is a plastic material used to make sunglasses for example. They are photodegradable, which means they decompose in thousands of micro-plastic particles when exposed to the sun ultraviolet rays. It take them until 15 years to deteriorate, according to the environment conditions, soil quality and the weather forecast.
Meanwhile, every chemicals contained in filters, intact, dissolve in the water or spread on the ground. The cigarette butt directly takes part in the soil and water contamination. In other words, it is the source of the environment poisoning.
The environment intoxicated
A threat for the wildlife and the plants
Cigarette butts sprinkle the streets of our towns. This urban pollution, first of all not esthetic, is also very dangerous for the kids too curious, pets and birds.
A gale or a bit of rain is enough for the butts to dive into the sewer network. They most of the time end up in rivers and oceans, where the waves sometimes bring them back to the beaches. These ones are infested with cigarette butts. During a cleaning campaign organized on Marseille’s beaches, 25 000 of these wastes have been collected in just one day.
Furnished with plastic fibers and harmful products, cigarette butts hurt the ecosystem. We can define this pollution better with numbers. One cigarette butt can pollute :
1 L of salted or fresh water, killing half of the small fish
Between 300 and 500 L of potable water, becoming then improper to consumption
1 m3 of snow. Winter sports are suddenly less attractive
Marine pollution due to cigarette butts is particularly worrying. They can lead to the fish death by ingestion. The fish confuses them with food. In addition to the intoxicating issue, fish swallowing pieces of cigarette have a false sensation of satiety, don’t feed themselves enough and suffer from malnutrition.
Significant cause of bushfires
In the countryside, we usually observe behaviors carrying little about the environment : drivers throwing their cigarette butts through the car window and hikers at the bend of a trail. These bad habits are not without consequences.
Cigarettes, when they are not well put out, can cause fires, especially during the drought and high heat periods. This risk is to take seriously, because one on two times, it’s a careless individual who’s the source of the fire. Only 2% of the bushfires are attributed to natural causes, mainly by lightening.
In France each year, thousands of forests disappear in flames. Bushfires release greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide and methane) in the atmosphere and deprive the planet of wooded area allowing it to breath. It doesn’t help the fight against the global warming, destroy the environment and sometimes the homes of citizens.
Awareness and waste management
Various considered actions
The tobacco industry, authorities or just persons carrying for the environment offer solutions to end up with the cigarette butts issue.
Replace current filters by biodegradable ones. Even if this initiative could tend to encourage smokers to throw their cigarette butts in the nature.
Plant a tree by throwing a cigarette butt ! This thanks to biodegradable filters containing a seed. A invention making us smile, which comes from a Indian company KARMA Tips. The risk, one more time, is to tolerate cigarette butts in the environment.
Alert smokers to environmental pollution, launching information campaigns, or with a note on cigarette packets. This initiative is one of the strongest today. Throw a cigarette butt is becoming an habit, that daily presence of ashtrays doesn’t achieve to change.
Establish tobacco free beaches. It happens in San Diego for example, and in twenty beaches in France. In the same vein but different method : certain cities such as Toulon or Monaco distribute reusable or biodegradable ashtrays, in the context of “clean beaches” operations.
Punish with fines. In Paris and Cannes, a smoker risks 68 to 180€ fine by throwing a cigarette butt in the street, whereas smoking while sunbathing can be sanctioned from 11 to 17€, according to beaches.
Establish an environmental tax on cigarettes, as a polluting product. This tax would be collected at the source, that is on the manufacturers profits, and would be 0,05 cents per cigarette, specifically 1 cent per packet of twenty. It would compensate the cost of collecting and treating wastes.
A sector in development : the cigarette butts recycling
Initiatives to recycle and value cigarette butts are still at their beginning. TerraCycle, Green Minded, Cy-clope, are thus names involved in the butts collect in the French streets, at the companies exits or in restaurants.
Organic matter (paper, tobacco and ash) can become compost usable in landscaping. As for the filters, transformed in plates or plastic balls, they can be used in many ways : construction, isolation, benches, ashtrays and even clothes ! A Chilean designer has as a matter of fact had the idea to recycle butts into clothes.
The recycling is moving. Is then the issue settled?
Absolutely not. Cigarettes don’t just appear into smokers hands by magic. The whole cigarette manufacturing process is harmful for the environment. The tobacco production is synonymous of fertilizer, pesticides, deforestation, global warming, goods transportation… its a long list.
Cigarette unfortunately hasn’t finished to harm ourselves and our planet’s health. We can then only advice smokers to ban the cigarette. To avoid any relapse, it is better to seek help.