What can we do?
- Dispose of your cigarette butts in the appropriate bin
- If there is no suitable bin nearby, carry around a portable ashtray or make your own by cleaning out a mini glass jam jar (the kind you get in hotels!)
- Refrain from smoking in areas where there is no suitable bin available.
What are cigarette butts made of?
- While most of a cigarette’s innards and paper wrapping disintegrate when smoked, not everything gets burned. Cigarette filters, also known as butts, littered each year – are enough to reach Saturn and back!. This is only an estimated third of which make it into the bin and are disposed of correctly.
- Often these cigarette filters are often assumed to be biodegradable, but this is actually a myth. Cigarette filters are made of a plastic called cellulose acetate. Cellulose-acetate-based cigarette filters do not biodegrade and can remain in the environment for very long periods of time in the form of microplastics. When ingested, the hazardous chemicals in microplastics cause long-term mortality in marine life, including birds, fish, mammals, plants and reptiles.
- These types of plastic filters are estimated to be the component in 90% of commercial cigarettes. Plastic cigarette butts are one of the most common plastic litter item on beaches, making marine ecosystems more susceptible to microplastic leakages.
The impacts of cigarette butts
- Used cigarette butts are not biodegradable and may take over a decade to decompose and continue to be toxic during this time (Source).
- When littered in an aquatic environment, due to their porous structure and consequent low density, filters can be transported over long distances until they become saturated with water and begin to sink.
- Littered cigarette butts are a major contributor of microplastic contamination with each cigarette filter contains approximately 15,000 microplastic fibers and these can be shed at a rate of around 100 microplastic fibres per day into water.
- Microfibres from cigarette butts are an important source of microplastics and might explain the high concentration of artificial polymers that have been found in the deep-sea sediments (Source).
- Those microfibers from cigarette filters can have toxic effects on organisms with the cigarette buts amounting to an estimated 0.3 million tons of microfibers released per year. This is similar to estimated microfiber emissions from domestic laundry (0.28 million tons).
- There is now ample evidence that microplastics pose a threat to ecosystems and according to research, just one cigarette butt per litre of water leaches enough toxins to kill half the freshwater or saltwater fish exposed to it.
- Over 35 studies have examined the toxicity of cigarette butts, but many organisms and habitats have not been tested. Two-thirds of studies are on aquatic organisms, and lethal effects were common. Research on the impacts on terrestrial life is lagging behind. Cigarette butts can affect the growth, behaviour, and reproductive output of individual organisms in all three habitats, but research on wider effects on biodiversity and ecosystem functioning is lacking.