If you attend a market, festival or any outdoor event, chances are you’ll find a few cigarette butts on the floor. While people frown upon littering, cigarette butts still tend to be dropped on the floor without much thought. This can have long-term negative consequences on the environment.
While some cities, such as Cape Town, provide bins every 100 metres on the street for litter and cigarette butts, the epidemic is still widespread. Some cities have even tried to make disposing of cigarette butts fun – London installed a few poll boxes where you could vote for your favourite football player by inserting your cigarette butts into the right box.
Despite the inventive ways of getting people to dispose of their cigarette butts correctly, more needs to be done to raise awareness of their environmental impact.
Cigarette butts end up in the ocean
Stats suggest that 65% of all cigarette butts end up being littered – most of which get washed away into streams and eventually end in the ocean. Not only are they ingested by marine life, but they can spread harmful chemicals in the process, poisoning sea creatures such as dolphins and whales.
The Ocean Conservancy says that over three million cigarette parts were collected on beaches around the world in 2017. Over four trillion cigarette butts are littered every year, worldwide. This amounts to about 800 million kilograms of hazardous waste.
Chemicals leak from cigarette butts
The vast majority of cigarette filters contain a plastic called cellulose acetate which can last for 25 years in the environment without breaking down. Cigarette filters also leak the harmful chemicals when immersed in water.
There are about 4000 chemicals in a single cigarette filter, including arsenic, formaldehyde, ammonia and lead. The plastic body of the filter can get lodged in the intestines and airways of animals, leading to suffocation or starvation.
Seabirds often consume the filters, mistaking them for small fish. A study revealed that 90% of albatross chicks had plastic waste, including cigarette filters, in their gullets. Turtles also consume the filters as they mistake them for small jellyfish.
Cigarettes are slowly being outlawed in more cities around the world. Even South Africa is contemplating a ban on smoking in all public spaces. This will no doubt reduce the number of cigarette butts that end up being littered, but in the meantime, we need to be aware of their impact on the environment.
Averda is a leading waste management provider with over 50 years of experience across three continents. Through growth, transformation and engagement, we strive to find new ways of managing waste while protecting the community and environment.
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