Trillions of butts

The world's No.1 litter item is the cigarette butt: trillions of these little fire and toxin bombs are discarded every year. Don't just let them lie.

Not only are lit butts a fire hazard, but stubbed-out butts leach toxins, take years to decompose and can get ingested by wildlife and children.

There's a common misconception that cigarettes comprise paper and tobacco, and so are fairly biodegradable. But cigarette filters are mostly composed of cellulose acetate, a kind of plastic, which can take years to break down.

Next time you see a discarded cigarette despoiling one of our beaches or hiking trails, don't just rant about it - pick it up! If each South African removed just ONE butt a year, the country would be 50 million pieces of litter cleaner. Research on littering behaviour suggests that seeing others picking up rubbish raises awareness and makes people less likely to litter.

Capetonians can also call the Stompie Line (021 424 7715) to report drivers who throw cigarette butts out of car windows. Be sure to get the offending car's registration number...and if you're driving remember to pull over and stop before you make the call.

- Olivia Rose-Innes, EnviroHealth Editor, Health24, January 2012

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