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Samantha Derham
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The accumulative impact of small actions through the life of a cigarette butt

13 October 2014, 05:00

Sometimes, the things that seem to be the most insignificant turn out to be the most significant because so many people thought that it was insignificant. The seemingly insignificance of a single cigarette butt comes to mind...

The majority of cigarettes are smoked outside and in private cars and the seemingly insignificant butt is then unthinkingly flicked onto the ground. Usually a hard surface where water runs freely to the nearest drain. Public storm water is directed into rivers, dams or directly into the ocean. Most water runs into the ocean eventually, and cigarette butts are easily taken for the ride. If a smoker stops for a second to think that what they are doing is actually littering it's simply justified as only one cigarette here and there. What difference will it make? Next time you're at a set of traffic lights or just walking down a footpath, have a look at the road next to you - you will see that there are a lot more than one or two, especially if it hasn't rained for a while. 

The facts are:
- Over 4.5 trillion cigarettes are littered worldwide each year. They are the most littered item in the world, and is the most common debris found in ocean litter trawls (as much as 40%)
- If all these cigarette butts were laid together they would cover 9 million km2, an area almost as large as the total area of the United States - per year!
- Cigarette butts are composed of cellulose acetate, a form of plastic, and take up to 25 years to decompose - 25 x the area US and counting
- Filters contain about 165 chemicals which leach into the environment they are disposed in, and are found in the guts of most marine life and birds, and is the direct cause of death for millions on them.

And that is just cigarette butts. Just think of all the rest of seemingly insignificant bits of plastic that are casually tossed because it is thought simply to be too small to care about...? With these facts its no longer surprising to hear that there are several continent-sized patches of garbage where currents meet in the ocean, the largest of which is thought to be twice the area of the United States. There is no accurate estimates of how deep the plastic soup might be.

Just like every seemingly insignificant cigarette adds up to be one of the world's most significant problems, if every person did a little in their own lives, it would add up to a lot. Yes, YOU! Just do what you can, it matters so much more than you think.

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