Did you know that the worlds most littered item and biggest contaminant of our oceans is cigarette butts? They are also made from plastic…
Cigarettes are still very popular things and reports show that several trillion traditional tobacco cigarettes are bought every year. About 4.5 TRILLION butts are littered across our planet, each year – being dropped on the pavement, flicked out of a window, over the side of a boat or buried in the sand of the beach.
About 4.5 TRILLION butts are littered across our planet, each year
Cigarette butts are the most common piece of plastic used by individuals, worldwide and for such small things they cause a lot of damage, for quite a while.
For context, butts are:
a) full of contaminants and chemicals, not found anywhere in nature
b) are made of plastic, taking around 13 YEARS to fully break down
A bit about Butts…
More often than not, around the world, cigarette butts get flicked onto the ground or into water. Even when dropped on the pavement or the road, they make their way into storm drains which head straight out into rivers and oceans (rainwater drains aren’t filtered like our drains at home, they overflow straight into the environment).
Cigarettes have been shown to contain around 7,000 chemicals and research over the last ~40 years has shown strong links between smoking and the detrimental impact on human health, including cancer, so it’s perhaps no surprise that wherever cigarette butts end up, they continue to damage whatever living species they come into contact with.
When butts are discarded, this host of chemicals and the plastic of the butts breakdown and continue to leach into and contaminate our environments for many years, land or sea. Imagine this. 4.5 TRILLION times across the planet every year; it gets very dirty.
Cigarette butts have been named the single biggest contaminant of our waters
The thing about many of the individual chemicals contained within cigarette butts is that they are often used on a more industrial scale as biocides – to kill pests, for example. Take arsenic – a common rat poison and tobacco itself is a very effective pesticide. Many of the chemicals in cigarettes are already effective at killing ‘unwanted’ animals and plants, so you can see just how potent they are to all things natural.
Studies also show that on land, cigarette butts can hamper the growth of plants – reducing the success of germination, stunting plant growth and root structures. In the sea, well, cigarette butts have been named the single biggest contaminant of our waters, beating even the plastic straw.
One cigarette butt in single litre of water containing fish, has the capacity to kill half of them with the toxins each butt contains and many seabird species around the world have been seen to mistake them for food, ingest them, and even feed them to their young. Cigarette waste has also been found in around 70% of sea birds and around 30% of sea turtles.
Fish, too, have been found to eat cigarette butts, which worryingly transfers cigarette butt toxicity back into the human food chain via our seafood, as what our land and sea soaks up, we ultimately soak up, too.
What can we do about it?
Sailors, it may not be pretty reading on the impact of cigarette butts BUT the solution and how we can help is super simple… Bin our butts! Also, whether on land or at sea, if you see butts lying around then safely (with gloves or litter sticks) pick them up and put them in the bin. Beach trash cans, or portable ashtrays, they are simple solutions to limit our impact on the environment.