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The Villains Behind Cigarette Butts Litter

A pile of cigarette butts.

What association do cigarette butts invoke in your mind? Is it a steaming pile nesting in an ashtray or an endless curbside litter mat? In any case, you have surely noticed those pesky filters here, there and everywhere. Beaches, city parks and children playgrounds – all intended for recreation and quality time, yet hardly immune to the cigarette litter plague. Are the butts bio-degradable? Can they be recycled and/or reused in some way? Who is to take the blame for the littering problem and who out there is trying to provide a solution? These are some of the questions we, at Rubbish Please will attempt addressing in this post.

Environmental impact of cigarette filters

There is a rather widespread misconception that cigarette butts are bio-degradable. It may have spurred out of wishful thinking, a petty attempt to rationalize around the problem, thus concluding no action needs to be taken. Recyclebank confirms the filters are non bio-degradable plastic, a fact sited by many other reputable organizations. So we definitely have a problem here. But wait, there is more. PSMag informs its readers of cigarette butts imminent hazards. Not only filters do not decompose on their own but they also release nicotine, arsenic, cadmium, vinyl chloride, acetone, mercury and lead that contaminate filters’ immediate surroundings. Now suddenly, it’s not just a problem related to littering but also poses health & safety risks as well.

Who is to be blamed?

Now this one question may be rather tricky to answer. Generally speaking, there are two groups we could point fingers towards. One the one hand we have smokers and their poor manners and bad habits and big tobacco on the other with their complete lack of interest resolving the issue. A third group, the council, could also be blamed, though we’ll only make a brief mention of them due to their ‘second hand’ nature of guilt. Let’s start out with them actually.

The council, or the local government if you would, has certain obligations – keeping public spaces clean and in good order to begin with. Inability to effectively employ an efficient cleaning schedule and techniques and install disposal containers are counts we can definitely pin on the government. Also, poor resource management in the sense of failing to provide incentive to both people (not to litter) and businesses (to develop recycling programmes.

People themselves are the most obvious candidates to be taken by surprise by a vocal assault and a witch hunt that ends with imprisonment. En mass, smokers lack initiative and proper manners to take proactive stance and collect all their butts for future disposal (assuming an ashtray or disposal unit of another kind is unavailable in close proximity). The reasons for that were already mentioned briefly. First reason goes out to the myth that butts are decomposing on their own when tossed. A myth, we should acknowledge, that was probably rationalized by a lazy smoker if you allow us the speculative wild guess here. Another reason relates to the amount of hassle one is prompt to endure in the name of sparing the environment another cigarette butt. The council simply hasn’t done enough to make it easy enough so most people decide to dispose properly rather than pollute.

The last jolly band of super wealthy but just as careless contributors to cigarette litter problems are… wait for it… big tobacco companies. Have you ever heard any of them even mentioning the possibility of reclaiming their own cigarette butts? Not a word, right?

How about manufacturing the filters from materials that are easier to recycle, hence contributing to solving the problem? No, that’s probably not happening very soon either. For many years have the tobacco industry turned a blind eye to littering problems caused by filters. Hopefully, this will change soon enough as the general public and local governments alike are getting increasingly more interested in relieving society from this problem once and for all. Enough guilt and pointing fingers for the time being. Isn’t there someone willing and able to make the difference and take steps towards problem resolution?

Who out there is trying to solve the problem?

Curtis Baffico and his website have already lunched a number of campaigns attempting to collect cigarette butts by providing an incentive for people – $3 per pound of butts. While this sum may not encourage many to spend hours collecting a single pound (roughly 1,500 butts), its a start, isn’t it? There are also projects aiming to find further use for the filters, incorporating them into the manufacture of bricks or into cement, replacing other materials. Another interesting social experiment (of sorts) took place by placing butts dispensers that allowed people to vote their favourite footballer and see results of the poll.

Pretty cool.

I bet some people will pick up smoking just to check the polls.

There could be many to blame but to what end really? Essentially, it comes down to every single individual to adopt appropriate mindset and make the slightest of effort not to contribute polluting the environment we all happen to call home. While the problem of recycling cigarette butts is still largely unsolved, landfills are somehow preferable to having arsenic, nicotine and mercury leach out to contaminate soil and water. But while we, the people are at it, it certainly would not hurt if big tobacco and the local council pitch in and demonstrate a modicum of interest after all.

Posted in Waste News and tagged cigarette butts, litter, pollution. Bookmark the permalink.

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