The real effects of cigarette butt litter are relatively unknown to most, so you may be surprised to learn the facts.
Are you, or someone in your household a smoker? Or do you have friends that smoke? We're not here to go into the health effects of smoking, but we are going to discuss the one least thought about aspect of this habit - Cigarette butt pollution!
With trillions of cigarettes (literally) being bought each year around the world, approximately 75% aren't being disposed of properly.
Cigarette butts are the most littered item on our Planet.
We see smokers casually flick their butts onto the footpath, into the gutter, or out a car window (without a care). I've seen numerous people stub out their "ciggy" into a pot plant and leave it there (gross). How is that ok?
You can find discarded butts in public reserves and campsites, along riversides, and in children's playgrounds. They're everywhere. Smokers presume that cigarette butts are just little bits of paper and cotton that will decompose in no time. This is far from the truth!
Cigarette filters are typically made from cellulose acetate fibre which is a plastic. These plastic fibres are very fine and when packed together, look a lot like cotton. The filter's wrapping consists of papers, rayon, and polyvinyl acetate emulsion (glue). Chemical additives control the cigarettes burning rate (how many puffs) and a pigment is added make the ash look more complimentary. It's understandable why filters look like they would break down quickly, but unfortunately, they don't.
Cigarette filters are said to take between 18 months and ten years (depending on conditions) to degrade in the environment. However, they end up breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces. They are essentially microplastics.
Most of us have heard about microplastics which are one of the worst forms of pollution. These tiny pieces of plastic end up in our oceans and get ingested by marine animals. The creatures that eat these plastics can get sick or die. Microplastics are the most prevalent form of pollution in our oceans and have even been found on the seabed.
NBC News (US) reported that cigarette butts are the single greatest source of ocean trash. They also stated that researches found the detritus (residue) of cigarette butts in 70% of seabirds and 30% of sea turtles. New Zealand has a multitude of seabirds, and we have five species of sea turtles that are seen in our waters.
While the effects of microplastics in soil are still relativity unknown, this too may pose a significant risk. The plastics may reduce soil health and could affect food chains.
Around 600 ingredients are in cigarettes, yet thousands of chemical components may reside in used filters (trapped in the fibres). Some chemicals are added during the initial growing and manufacturing of tobacco. Others are the by-products from igniting a cigarette which produces chemical reactions. Toxic substances leach out of discarded butts into the soil and waterways.
Here are few of the chemicals that may be found in used cigarette butts -
Most cigarette butts thrown away in the streets end up being washed into storm drains, and then into our rivers and seas. Leachate from the butts contaminates the water, which in turn, can harm or kill aquatic life living nearby.
The chemicals in cigarette butts are also detrimental to land ecosystems as they can kill plants, insects, fungus, and other organisms. Animals may consume the butts, putting them at risk of being poisoned.
Birds pick up cigarette butts to weave into their nests. Interestingly, scientists think that birds are using the nicotine in butts as a pesticide to ward off parasitic mites. They would naturally use insect-repelling plants for the same purpose. This practice may only be of short term benefit though, as the different chemicals might be harmful to hatchings.
A photographer took this incredibly sad picture of a bird feeding her baby a cigarette butt.
Toddlers innocently put all sorts of objects in their mouths. You wouldn't want to see your child eating a cigarette butt!
Article by Justy