Many cigarette smokers don’t think that improperly discarded butts constitute litter. So, rather than putting their butts in the trash after they’ve finished smoking, they simply toss them out the car window, on the lawn, in the gutter, in a stream, or some place other than the nearest garbage container.
The problem with incorrect disposal is that littered cigarette butts are carried by wind and rain runoff into nearby water bodies. Toxic substances in the filters then leak into aquatic ecosystems, affecting the marine life and the quality of the water. Researchers have found cigarette butts in the stomachs of birds and fish that mistake them for food.
The Dangers of Cigarette Litter
Cigarette litter constitutes about one-third of all litter in outdoor recreation areas, including parks. About 85 percent of all cigarette filters are carelessly tossed to the ground. About 15 percent of these butts are thrown into planters; 25 percent are thrown on or around an ash receptacle; and 37 percent go into shrubbery and bushes.
Improperly disposed cigarette filters are extremely harmful to societies and the economy. They are unsightly when gathered in corners, along fences, or in water drains. Litter of any kind diminishes the value of property and neighbourhood, and deters new investments and opportunities in the area.
More importantly, cigarette butts are not biodegradable. 99 percent of the hundreds of billions of cigarettes sold every year have plastic—cellulose acetate—filters, and one-third of them are discarded into the environment. Studies show that it takes 10 to 25 years for the plastic material to completely breakdown.
This implies that they have plenty of time to spread the carcinogenic chemicals within the filter, namely nicotine, arsenic, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and heavy metals. Cigarette butts leach these toxic substances into the ecosystem, kill animals that consume them, start accidental fires, and cost communities millions of dollars for clean-up. Children can even pick up carelessly disposed butts and put them in their mouths.
Managing the Problem
Littering is illegal, but the penalties have done little to discourage the behaviour. Smokers can be made more aware of the serious consequences of improper disposal of cigarette butts on wildlife and the environment. Increasing the number of easily accessible garbage containers in areas where people gather to smoke can also encourage them to dispose of filters, packaging, and lighting material properly. People just need to take pride in their community and do the right thing.