I remember how unpleasant a task it was to empty out the ashtrays after my dad’s Friday night poker club. STINKY! Well, it turns out that cigarette butts are also messing with the oceans. A recent NBC news report states that cigarette butts are one the world’s greatest sources of ocean pollution.


“Cigarette Filters Serve no Useful Function”

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) cigarette filters serve no useful health function. Rather the tobacco industry created them in the 1950’s as a marketing tool in an effort to make smoking “healthier.”


5.6 Trillion Cigarette Butts

sparrow bird with cigarette butts on beachEstimates are that 5.6 trillion cigarettes are manufactured annually around the world and most contain a filter made of cellulose acetate, a plastic-like material that can take a decade to decompose.

Once smoked, the cigarette is reduced to a smelly, noxious butt that is usually carelessly flicked away. Probably two-thirds of all cigarette butts are not disposed of properly but dropped on sidewalks or flicked out of car windows and these will be carried along with the rain into storm drains, down rivers and out into the world’s oceans.

The Ocean Conservancy has been conducting beach clean-ups over the last 32 years and cigarette butts, nearly 60 million of them, are the single most collected pieces of trash. In fact, they are the single most littered item on the planet.

And when they enter our oceans they may kill marine life. As the cigarette is smoked, chemicals, including arsenic and pesticides are concentrated in the filter.


Toxic For Marine Life

Bird_cigarette butts on beachAs we now know, claims that filtered cigarettes were ‘healthier’ were fraudulent,” as stated in the studies.  “This toxic waste ends up on our streets, in our drains and in our water. Research has shown that harmful chemicals leached from discarded butts, which include nicotine, arsenic and heavy metals, can be acutely toxic to aquatic organisms and bird life,” the WHO report added.


Litter But Not Illegal

Surprisingly, even though cigarette butts are the world’s most littered item they are also the least legislated. Maybe that is not so surprising given the campaign donations given to lawmakers from the tobacco industry. But, maybe that is about to change. A number of organizations are butting in, from calling for an outright ban on filters to developing biodegradable alternatives.

The Truth Initiative, an anti-smoking organization has launched its campaign to ban cigarette filters completely.

Cigarette manufacturers have come to realize their potential liability for littering the world’s beaches. Unfortunately, their efforts to produce a better filter have so far been unproductive. However, Greenbutts a startup from San Diego is ready to market their organic filter composed of hemp and wood pulp.


An  Enormous Challenge

In just the last several years we have recognized the harm inflicted by plastic drinking straws, single-use plastic bags and the plastic water bottle on the world’s marine environment. And we can claim some small successes in dealing with these issues. These successes carry momentum that help us address parts of an enormous problem. Cigarette butts are one of the next challenges.

Blue Ocean Network


Plus see These Related Posts on Ocean Plastics:

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Life Beyond Plastic: Could the EU ban all single use plastic? And what about Legos?
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The Great Pacific Garbage Patch: Taking Out the Trash
Life Beyond Plastics: How Fashion is Killing Our Rivers


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