Lately scientists have figured out (duh) that cigarette butts are one of the most abundant types of litter found around. That means there are plenty of butts out there. (Studies estimate that 4.5 trillion cigarette butts find their way into the environment each year.)
Worse, much much worse, it’s one of nastiest, deadliest forms of waste. People who would not dream of pitching a cool drink tin out of the car window will happily chuck a burning butt out. Not particularly caring that it can set fire to something. And they do too – burning butts are often the cause of serious veldt fires.
People also drop them on pavements or into gutters, where the wind will blow them into storm waters and all sorts of other places.
Beaches are ideal for putting out butts. One huge ashtray – right? Wrong.
Or… they flick butts casually into water – dams, the sea and rivers.
But you probably wouldn’t flick a cigarette butt into your swimming pool – would you? Why not? Because you or your family might swallow it whilst swimming and that would be nasty and dangerous.
So why not care if a fish, bird or animal chomps it instead?
Cigarette butts are tiny little bundles of toxins. In other words… poisonous. They get into our marine ecosystems and cause havoc with the wildlife and the quality of the water.
And we all know that water is extremely precious – right?
Due to the fact that cigarette filters are specifically designed to accumulate toxins, each cigarette butt can contain up to 60 known human carcinogens including… arsenic, formaldehyde, chromium and lead. (In fact, there are around 1,400 potential chemical additives.) Toxicological data has shown that these chemicals from discarded butts are capable of leaching into surrounding water where they can hurt aquatic life.
Nicotine has been shown to be lethal to species of fish, crustaceans, zooplankton, and other aquatic organisms, as well as being a known insecticide. On top of leeching toxins, cigarette butts present an ingestion, choking and poisoning hazard to wildlife who mistake them for dinner!
Cigarette filters are also composed of cellulose acetate, a form of plastic that can hang around in the environment for long periods of time. Plastics of this sort have been found in the stomachs of sea turtles, fish, birds, whales and other marine creatures.
And yet you know what is also really scary – even those people who put their cigarettes out in the designated places have no guarantee that their butts won’t also end up in the water. The bins get emptied. Butts are chucked onto rubbish dumps. Here they are blown around and it’s highly likely that they end up where they shouldn’t as well.
So what is the answer? Whilst scientists are trying to find a practical use for cigarette butts maybe people should consider stopping or cutting down smoking… or at least disposing of their butts in a responsible way.