A cigarette butt is the most common piece of rubbish in the world – and it turns into microplastic
Cigarette butts never disappear from the natural world, so quitting smoking is an everyday eco-act at its best!
It’s commonly known that the littering of seas and waterways is a big problem. Pictures of discarded plastics floating in the seas are very familiar, and many countries are affected. Contrary to public belief, the most common item of rubbish in the world is not the plastic bag, but in fact a cigarette butt. These butts never decompose totally, but over time change into a plastic that travels into waterways and can end up taking a journey onto your plate.
Cigarette butts break down into micro-plastic that can end up on your plate
A cigarette butt is relatively small and has a cardboard-like appearance, which is why throwing it on the ground may not be considered as a very serious matter. In fact, the cigarette butt is porous cellulose acetate, i.e. plastic. Upon reaching the ground, the butt begins to disintegrate into a small micro-plastic that is virtually indestructible.
The problem with microplastic is that it never breaks down. Over time, microplastic accumulates in water bodies and their organisms, and it has been found in many fish. Thus, the microplastic is also in danger of ending up on your plate through fish and other aquatic life.
In addition, tobacco contains numerous environmentally harmful ingredients that dissolve in the filter, and thus into nature, during smoking. For example, nicotine, lead, arsenic, cadmium and several other environmental toxins can be found in tobacco strains. Harmful ingredients are released into the environment by wind, rain and water.
A butt is a small but insidious piece of rubbish, harmful to animals and the environment
After all, a cigarette butt is a pretty small piece of rubbish, so can it really be all that bad for the environment? Actually tobacco filters are so common that waste is a real issue.
Cigarette butts are particularly harmful on beaches and near waterways, and virtually everywhere other than rubbish containers. Up to 70 % of the rubbish on Finnish beaches consists of cigarette butts. More than 40 000 cigarette butts (over20 pounds) were collected in Finland alone in a 6 month period. Cigarette butts pass through rainfall and melting snow into bodies of water, where they end up in the mouths of organisms and slowly break down into the ecosystem.
Butts are always a problem. A filter thrown on the street easily finds its way into the mouths of unsuspecting wildlife, dogs and even children, where such toxic substances do not, of course, belong. In animals, tobacco in the stomach has caused indigestion, breathing problems and suffocation.
What to do about the problem of tobacco litter?
The environmental impact of cigarette butts is huge, but fortunately each of us can contribute to the problem of littering with small everyday actions. The most effective way is to quit smoking and thus prevent plastic debris from forming. You can be part of the solution to the litter problem when you reduce or gradually stop smoking.
- If you smoke, take your cigarette butts to the trash, never drop them in the street or anywhere on the ground!
- Remind a smoking friend to put their rubbish in the trash.
- A sustainable solution is to quit smoking, as this will reduce waste.
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