The pollution of cigarette butts is a real scourge. Butts are everywhere at our feet. We meet them every day in the streets, on the beaches, in the parks… At a time when ecological problems are at the center of political, economic and social issues, seeing a smoker throw his cigarette butt on the road is not shocking yet hardly anyone.
Cigarette butts: a dangerous pollution
Around the world, one in three cigarettes ends up in the wild and more than 500 million kilograms of tobacco waste are spread in our environment each year.
If the impressive quantity of cigarette butts discarded in nature remains an important issue, it is the toxic composition of cigarette butts filters that raises real questions. Contrary to what one might think, cigarette butts are not made of cotton but of plastic fibers (cellulose acetate). They contain many toxic and chemical components. Once in contact with water, these substances become new predators for ecosystems and especially aquatic species.
As soon as a cigarette butt comes into contact with a natural environment, the transmission of pollutants is imminent. This waste is made up of around ten chemical elements such as heavy metals (lead, mercury, chromium, etc.), nicotine or tar. One of the reasons cigarette butts are classified as hazardous waste is because of nicotine. This substance has been used since the 15th century as a pesticide. Its use as such is very supervised and regulated in countries such as the United States, Canada or in many European countries because of its toxicity on animal species .
Cigarette butt recycling: a civic responsibility but not only…
It’s not all bad in the management of cigarette butts and fortunately! Throwing your butt on the ground was punishable by a € 68 fine two years ago. Today the amount of this fine has doubled (135 €) to encourage citizens to take care of our environment.
What really changes is the responsibility that is now shared.
In application of the polluter pays principle, tobacco manufacturers will have to take charge of the management of their cigarette waste . This management would be based on the payment of a contribution to an eco-organization, like what already exists on many everyday products (household packaging, plastic bottles, electrical and electronic devices, etc.
furniture, etc.). The objective of this eco-participation is to allow the financing of actions of information, prevention, collection and treatment of cigarette butts . While waiting for this organization to be set up, it is up to citizens to be careful and adopt the right actions with regard to pollution from cigarette butts .
The impact of cigarette butt pollution on water
As said above, it is precisely the cigarette filters that are the problem because there is no international law or regulation to permanently eliminate this scourge. As a result, a very large part of cigarette butts end up in the seas and oceans .
This is a major problem that requires awareness at the global level, as do the measures put in place to reduce the consumption of plastic. In this process, an association called Cigarette Butt Pollution Project created by American scientists and ecological activists. Their mission is to ban the use of cigarette filters in the United States and around the world.
But the power of the American lobbies hinders the objectives set by the association and no agreement has yet been found. Cigarette filters remain a strong marketing argument that brands are not ready to get rid of.
It is therefore millions and millions of cigarette butts thrown on the ground, which end up in the sewers, then in the rivers to end up in the seas or the oceans. These natural resources considered scarce become polluted spaces .
Cigarette butt and pollution: some scary figures
The cigarette butts take about 12 years to completely degrade: filters take between 1 and 2 years to destroy themselves, but one of its components, cellulose acetate, puts almost 10 years to completely disintegrate. The environment in which the cigarette butt is also an important factor which has an impact on the conditions of degradation of this waste.
Each year, nearly 5,200 billion cigarettes are produced worldwide, the vast majority of which are made from filters. 66% of them end up thrown into the wild.
We know that a cigarette butt can pollute up to 500 liters of water on its own. In contact with water, cigarette filters have catastrophic repercussions on natural resources on a global scale.
Butts represent 40% of the waste collected in cities and on beaches during cleaning and waste collection actions. This is the most important waste collected on the coast. In France, each year, 30 to 40 billion cigarette butts are thrown on the ground.
The pollution of cigarette butts on living beings
A study was carried out on fish (Atherinopsidae) and on other marine species. In behavioral tests, water fleas are extremely sensitive: toxic effects, such as immobilization, can be observed from the presence of 0.05 butt per liter.
Other tests have shown that cigarette butts have mutagenic behaviors on bacteria and increase the chances of mortality and behavioral disturbances in sea snails. The impacts are different depending on the species but in the majority of cases, the reproductive systems are affected from a minimal amount of nicotine, tar and all other toxic substances.
Even more alarming, a single cigarette butt is enough to wipe out half of a population of fish living in a liter of water .
You now know almost everything about the pollution of cigarette butts . Whether you are a smoker or a non-smoker, do not hesitate to educate your professional or personal entourage to make our planet a zero butt space.