Kick The Butt! Save The Earth!

With every year passing by, we are worsening our environment with the burden of plastic pollution. Greenpeace, an international non-profit environmental organisation, released a report ranking the commodities contributing to the waste pollution in Canada… And cigarette butts topped the list!

According to the UN, globally 300 million tonnes of plastic waste is generated every year – equivalent to the weight of the entire human population!

More than 99% of plastics are produced from chemicals derived from oil, natural gas and coal — all of which are non-renewable resources. If the current trends continue, by 2050 the plastic industry could account for 20% of the world’s total oil consumption, says the UN Environment agency.

A bird was spotted feeding the chick a cigarette butt earlier this year.

At least 79% of the plastic produced gets accumulated in landfills, dumps or ends up in the natural environment. Cigarette butts — whose filters contain tiny plastic fibres — are the most common type of plastic waste found in the environment.

A staggering 8 million tonnes of plastic ends up in the world’s oceans every year, with most of it coming from rivers.

If this trend continues, then the oceans could contain more plastic than fish by 2050, says the UN agency.

But one major pollutant that is causing harm to marine life is yet to be given the attention it deserves — cigarette butts.

Smokers don’t think twice before throwing the cigarette butt on the road, into water bodies, parks, anywhere. Lack of awareness among smokers is a major issue.

Cigarette filters or butts — a white cotton-like substance — are designed to absorb harmful toxins of cigarette smoke and are made of plastic called ‘cellulose acetate’. However, the material used in filtering out toxins from cigarette smoke is itself a slow degrading substance that does not get absorbed by nature easily. It takes 18 months to 10 years for one cigarette butt to decompose. The trouble doesn’t end here. The butt isn’t just a piece of plastic but also contains discarded bits of tobacco and chemicals that leach into the environment and water bodies, causing immeasurable harm.

As a huge quantity of cigarette butts gets dumped into the ocean, they get swallowed by fishes and turtles, according to a report by Whales Alive. Cigarette butts are known to carry the residues of cigarettes, which have over 3,900 chemicals, including nicotine, cyanide, ammonia, cadmium and acetone. These butts swell up in the gut of the marine animals and create a false sense of satiation due to which the animals refrain from eating and eventually die of starvation.

A single cigarette butt is made up of at least 12,000 microplastics and microfibres, which are thinner than a sewing thread, and, according to a study by Clean Virginia Waterways, can be lethal to water flora and fauna. These microfibres could also threaten the food chain and cause a severe effect on human health in the long run.

Approximately 5.6 trillion cigarettes with cigarette filters are manufactured across the globe every year, and as many as two-thirds of the filters are discarded irresponsibly each year, according to a NBC news report.

Some have come up with biodegradable filters, like Greenbutts. Green filters are quite effective but they aren’t a successful solution to the issue because at the end of the day, they still carry toxins of a burnt cigarette.

‘If nobody smokes, there wouldn’t be this (butt) problem,’ says a Guardian report, could be an ideal solution to the problem!

Ritika Dubey
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Ritika Dubey

Ritika Dubey is a journalism-New Media (PG) student at Sheridan College. An Indian journalist, she is passionate about reporting on environmental issues. Ritika has a bachelor's degree in Journalism and Mass Communication, with majors in the English language. She is a research scholar, digital illustrator, avid reader and traveller. She moved to Canada in August 2019 and currently lives in Oakville, Ontario.

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