The most pervasive man-made pollutant on the planet isn’t plastic, it’s cigarette butts

While bans on plastic straws have been the subject of media attention and laws have been enacted to ban them, the most ubiquitous man-man pollutant on the planet isn’t plastic, it’s cigarette butts, according to a report from NBC News:

“Environmentalists have taken aim at the targets systematically, seeking to eliminate or rein in big sources of ocean pollution — first plastic bags, then eating utensils and, most recently, drinking straws. More than a dozen coastal cities prohibited plastic straws this year. Many more are pondering bans, along with the states of California and Hawaii.

“Yet the No. 1 man-made contaminant in the world’s oceans is the small but ubiquitous cigarette butt — and it has mostly avoided regulation.”

Here’s a few staggering facts about cigarettes and cigarette waste:

  • 5.5 trillion cigarettes are produced each year around the world.
  • About 98% contain of cigarette filters are made of cellulose acetate.
  • Cellulose acetate can take a decade or longer to break down under ultraviolet light, which in turn disperses the toxic plastic into smaller bits.

The most commonly found object in oceans and on beaches is also cigarette butts, Mother Nature Network notes:

“For the last three decades, cigarette butts have been the most commonly found item during the Ocean Conservancy’s annual international coastal cleanup project; during the 2018 cleanup campaign, volunteers found roughly 2.4 million of them on beaches. (By comparison, 643,000 plastic straws and stirrers were found.)”

Cigarette butts aren’t just bad for the ocean, they’re also dangerous to plants:

“Butts are problematic no matter where they end up, and not just because they’re unsightly. Research led by Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, England, found that cigarette butts impede plants’ development. The study, published in Exotoxicology and Environmental Safety, found that tossed butts reduced germination of ryegrass by 10 percent and white clover by 27 percent. The study went on to look at root-to-shoot ratio and discovered a negative influence there as well.”

Despite the massive amount of cigarette butt waste that exists, some groups are working to change the equation:

“The Cigarette Butt Pollution Project has a list of policy positions, including putting the onus of butt cleanup on the tobacco companies, enacting a ban on disposable filters, litigating the environmental harm cigarettes do, and the overall elimination of smoking. The anti-cigarette campaign, The Truth, is also gunning for cigarette butts, as you can see in the video above.”

But perhaps the best solution would be one that addresses the serious health issues caused by cigarettes when they’re smoked and then when they’re disposed of. Either way, they’re a danger to humans and Mother Earth.


Featured Image Via Flickr


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Andrew Bradford

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