After celebrating Earth day on April 22, I’d like you to think of the impact that cigarette butts have on the environment.
Cigarette butts are an enormous problem:
- According to the Texas Department of Transportation, 130 million cigarette butts are tossed onto Texas highways yearly.
- Litter research estimates tobacco products (butts, packs, plastic wraps, chew cans, etc.) to be 37.7 percent of all litter.
- Almost all investigators agree that cigarette butts are the most littered item in the world by far, more so than drink cups, plastic bags, paper, glass bottles, etc.
Cigarette butts are toxic to the environment:
- They are not biodegradable. The filters are made of cellulose acetate, a form of plastic. The filter may break into smaller pieces, but it will never completely break down or disappear. The paper and leaves are biodegradable, but the chemicals that they have been bathed in at the factory (to increase “impact factor” and make them more addictive) are not. They contaminate our soil and water.
- Cigarette butts are a threat to wildlife and pets. They have been found in the bellies of birds, fish, and mammals.
- Small children, not knowing what they are, pick them up and eat them.
- One third of all small children who swallow a cigarette butt will experience nausea and vomiting.
Cigarette butts cause fires:
- About 900–1,000 people die and 2,500–3,000 are injured every year in the U.S. in fires that are started by cigarettes.
- About 100 of those deaths annually are children and adult non-smokers.
- In 1997 there were more than 130,000 cigarette related fires.
- Annual costs in property damage is about $400 million.
- Investigators determined that cigarettes started the following fires:
- A March 2004 fire in Richmond, Virginia that destroyed 26 buildings and caused $20 million in damage
- A January 2001 fire in San Diego County that burned 10,000 acres, 16 homes, and 64 vehicles
- A 1999 fire in the Mont Blanc Tunnel in France killed 39 people.
Cigarette butt litter is expensive:
- Butts are picked up, one by one, by paid employees of cities, states, schools, and private businesses.
- Their time could be better spent improving the property with landscaping, planting trees, maintaining lawns, flowers, and bushes, upgrading infrastructure, etc., rather than spending hours cleaning the mess.
- Tourists avoid areas like beaches and amusement parks that are littered with cigarette butts.
- Residents avoid public spaces like parks and business districts that are littered.
- Litter reduces property values.
Smoker behavior is the problem:
- Behavioral observation studies show that 57 percent of publicly smoked cigarette butts are littered, rather than disposed of properly.
- Of those observed litterers, 35 percent claimed to not have littered in the past month, even though researchers had just observed them littering their cigarette butts.
- Those who were observed littering also were much less likely to report that they felt a personal obligation to not litter.
How can you help?
- Having ash and cigarette receptacles available reduces the littering rate. If you control the funds to do so, consider buying and placing cigarette-specific receptacles where smokers smoke.
- Cigarette butts are litter. A lot of people don’t think of it that way.
- Address the personal responsibility not to litter with your children, so that they live in a world with less litter as they become adults.