Cigarette butts are the largest source of trash in the world's oceans

February 13, 2019 | Environment
Cigarette butts: the number one littered item in the oceans | Photo: Shutterstock

Forget plastic bottles and caps, beverage cans, plastic bags, food containers, and plastic straws. Cigarette butts are the most abundant item in the ocean.

The pollution of air and water is a consequence of human action. The destruction of the Earth's ecosystem starts on terra firma and is a responsibility of all its inhabitants without exception.

As we all know, the world's oceans are under attack. Despite containing 97 percent of the planet's H2O and covering 71 percent of the surface of the Earth, the seas are increasingly becoming the trash can of humanity.

Surprisingly, or maybe not, cigarette butts are the most littered item in the world.

Each year, about 5.6 trillion cigarette filters are manufactured worldwide with a filter made of cellulose acetate.

Unfortunately, sixty-six percent of all smoked cigarettes are irresponsibly dumped everywhere and a large majority end up in the world's oceans.

According to Ocean Conservancy, a nonprofit environmental organization headquartered in Washington, DC, cigarette butts are by far the biggest source of trash found on beaches and waterways around the world.

An Immediate Impact on the Ocean

The impact of these small and inappropriately discarded butts in everything that surrounds us is enormous.

Seabirds and other marine animals are programmed to eat small, bright and colorful things, and they can't tell the difference between their food and cigarette butts.

A cigarette butt features a non-biodegradable filter and the poisonous remnants of a smoked cigarette.

It contains dangerous chemicals such as nicotine, lead and arsenic that, when in contact with water, intoxicate rivers, lakes, and oceans.

Smoking: each cigarette contains 600 substances | Photo: Creative Commons

Discarded cigarette filters are also a danger to pets, children, and wildlife.

Beaches are not an ashtray but, since the 1980s, Ocean Conservancy has collected over 60 million cigarette butts through cleanup programs. It's a never-ending plague.

The American ocean advocacy group has no doubts - cigarette filters are the most common type of litter found in beach cleanups.

Banning Smoking in Beaches

Tobacco waste is a global problem that should be addressed with stronger legislation, community awareness, tighter smoking restrictions, and the increase in the number of smoke-free beaches.

If you're not allowed to smoke in a federal building, why should you be able to do so in a public place like a beach?

The number of world beaches where users are not allowed to light up a cigarette is steadily increasing.

According to the American Nonsmokers' Rights Foundation, there are more than 315 US city beaches were smoking is prohibited - 64 are located in California, and 68 in Massachusetts.

Tobacco waste is a huge problem, even in beaches where trash receptacles were made available. Some people still don't care.

The impact on their favorite strip of sand is almost immediate. A cigarette butt left in the sand will, sooner or later, be washed into the salt water.

The largest tobacco companies in the world, including Philip Morris International, British American Tobacco, Imperial Brands, Altria Group, and Japan Tobacco, have refused to accept additional taxes for the costs associated with cleaning up cigarette butts in public spaces.

But the growing concerns over public health and the pollution of natural resources are putting significant pressure on the tobacco industry to put an end to the tragedy that is taking place in the oceans of the world.

A single cigarette has approximately 600 substances but, when burned, it generates over 7,000 chemicals, 69 of which are known to cause cancer.

Tobacco kills over seven million per year worldwide. Around 15.5 percent of Americans smoke. The math is easy to do.

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