Cigarette butts are the most commonly discarded piece of waste worldwide. It is estimated that 1.69 BILLION pounds of butts wind up as toxic trash each year, creating an enormous environmental, health, and economic burden.
Contrary to popular belief, cigarette butts are NOT biodegradable! Cigarette butt waste is a huge environmental issue, with a global impact -- it is both unsightly and unhealthy.
Tips for reducing cigarette butt waste:
Cigarette butts are more than mere litter; environmental and health groups are just now appreciating the seriousness of the butt problem, from bio-accumulation of poisons up the food chain to damage to commercial fisheries and water supplies. A recent study showed that cigarette waste easily meets standardized tests for city and state agencies to label a substance as toxic waste. This hazardous material persists in the environment for some time and is often ingested by aquatic creatures, wildlife, and pets, not to mention small children, who suffer serious health problems as a result. Cigarette filters are made from cellulose acetate, a plastic that can break into smaller pieces, but will never biodegrade or disappear. What's worse is that the filters themselves are a sham. They offer no health protection and are simply a marketing device to give the appearance that a cigarette is somehow safer.
A study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on small children who had ingested cigarette butts concluded that one-third of them exhibited symptoms of illness such as spontaneous vomiting, nausea, lethargy, gagging, and flushing. Cigarette butts leach toxins into the water and kill or injure various forms of wildlife. In addition, the plastic parts of cigarette butts can be ingested by fish, birds, whales and other marine animals. According to the Surfrider Foundation, cigarette butts are the most frequent item collected during the group's beach cleanups. The good news is that smokefree beach laws help reduce butts on beaches by 45% according to the Audubon Society. Discarded cigarettes are also a major cause of fires.
The cleanup costs are immense - the city of San Francisco has estimated that it spends $11 million per year cleaning up butts. The city has proposed a first of its kind fee on tobacco retailer licenses to help recover the cost of cleanup. We expect more cities and states to label cigarette butts as toxic waste and to pursue policy approaches to address this serious environmental problem. A study published in the April 2011 issue of Tobacco Control, estimated that "tobacco product litter (TPL)" comprises 22 to 36 percent of all visible litter. Estimated removal costs range from $3 million to $16 million for major cities and municipalities.
A May 2009 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health stated, "Several options are available to reduce the environmental impact of cigarette butt waste, including developing biodegradable filters, increasing fines and penalties for littering butts, monetary deposits on filters, increasing availability of butt receptacles, and expanded public education. It may even be possible to ban the sale of filtered cigarettes altogether on the basis of their adverse environmental impact. This option may be attractive in coastal regions where beaches accumulate butt waste and where smoking indoors is increasingly prohibited."
Examples of Smokefree Signs for Outdoor Areas
Click on thumbnails to view full-size images
Read more about cigarette butt waste in the news, as well as research into this toxic environmental problem below.
News | Related Research
Happens to the Billions of Cigarette Butts on the Beach?
Chicago's big beach butt problem
groups: Cigarette butts trash Arizona freeways
Recycles Cigarette Butts Lots Of Them
cigarettes new pollution target of Coastal Cleanup Day
butts the most prevalent form of trash at the Beaches
A 2008 Keep America Beautiful Pocket Ashtray study found that 90 percent of cigarette ... California holds the top spot for smoke-free beaches, boasting more than 50 municipalities with smoking bans, while New York, Massachusetts and Minnesota have nearly 30 communities apiece with smoke-free shores. Maine prohibits smoking on beaches in all state parks. According to the American Nonsmokers Rights Foundation, the closest community to the First Coast that bans smoking at parks and beaches is landlocked DeKalb County, Georgia, near Atlanta...
seeing fewer butts after smoking ban
million cigarette butts: Massive ocean clean-up nets 2 million cigarette
and the Environment
groups work together to raise health awareness on Earth Day
Campaign Fights the Cigarette Butt, a Ubiquitous Pollutant
Cigarette butt bill; crazy but interesting
butts at Burgess
Has the smoking ban worked on the beaches? Yes, said Fred Stepanis, assistant with the conservation division and coordinator for the town's Coastsweep ...
than Half of Americans Polled Don't Know that Cigarette Butts are the
No. 1 Littered Item in the nation - Toxic Tobacco Trash Fails to Biodegrade,
Putting Wildlife in Danger and Wreaking Havoc on U.S. Waterways, Parks,
Beaches and Roadways
Last year, according to 2011 The Tax Burden on Tobacco report, Americans purchased more than 287 billion cigarettes. A vast number of those cigarette butts, including the filters, will be flicked into the environment, landing along waterways, parks, beaches and public roads.
butts slide down list of most common Jersey Shore trash
Whether credit goes to the smoking ban on many beaches, the drop in the number of people lighting up or an abundance of receptacles, there's a lot less ...
Volunteers haul 5 tons of trash from local beaches in 2011
Boren hopes to make OU smoke-free by spring 2012 semester Oklahoma Daily, September 13, 2011
... Boren said the financial impact of smoking on campus at a time when state appropriations are decreasing was made clear in an email sent by university Landscape Director Allen King.
Cigarette cleanup and litter control cost the Landscape Departments budget $165,000 last year; $45,000 of that total was directly related to the cleanup of discarded cigarettes and emptying ashtrays, King said in the email.
In addition to cleanup charges, Facilities Management must spend money repairing the damage done to university property, King said.
Currently there are 900 trash receptacles on campus and of that number approximately 100 need to be cleaned each year due to smoking for a cost of $12,000, King said. Also benches are being used to extinguish cigarettes. The average cost to clean a bench is three man hours or $90 per bench. ...
pounds of debris removed from Santa Cruz, Monterey counties during annual
Save Our Shores, which organized the cleanups, released the data totals from the event this week. A total of 4,584 volunteers in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties removed 17,503 pounds of rubbish from 81 sites around the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary area in three hours. ...
event to help clean up Tijuana River Valley
Volunteers with the San Diego chapter of The Surfrider Foundation will
help clean up the Tijuana River Valley Saturday and raise awareness
about problems caused by cigarette butts. ...
San Diego (CA) Reader, 2011-08-14
The corner of Mission Boulevard and Mission Bay Drive in Mission Beach
came alive on the morning of Saturday, August 13 with a dozen or so
Surfrider volunteers who urged everyone to "Hold On To Your Butt!"
Reynolds American Deceives Consumers
by Marketing American Spirit Cigarettes As "Eco Friendly"
July 25, 2011
WASHINGTON, DC (July 25, 2011) The Reynolds American tobacco company is once again deceiving consumers by running magazine ads that describe its Natural American Spirit cigarettes as "eco friendly." This is yet another attempt by a tobacco company to downplay how deadly and addictive cigarettes truly are, this time by marketing a cigarette brand as environmentally friendly. Consumers should not be deceived: There is nothing healthy or environmentally responsible about Natural American Spirit cigarettes or any cigarettes.
County launches cigarette butt cleanup campaign
Outdoor Smoking Bans
You can debate whether outdoor smoking bans improve public health. But there's no doubt that they improve the health of American shorelines.
Careless people are turning our oceans into giant trash dumps. Beaches
in the United States are pockmarked with the detritus of our throwaway
culture bottle caps, foam coffee cups and plastic bags. Cigarette
butts have been the most frequent item of marine debris collected by
millions of beach cleanup volunteers worldwide over the last 25 years,
according to a report
by the Ocean Conservancy. ...
Cigarette Butts Harmful To Marine And Freshwater Fish
Discarded cigarette butts, which end up in waterways, are harmful to fish, indicates research published today in a special supplement of Tobacco Control. ...
Shows Environmental Impact of Smoking
A new survey comes as a reminder that smoking isn't only bad for our health, but for our environment too.
really? The environmental impact of cigarettes
In this issue, Moerman and Potts demonstrate the presence of heavy metals in cigarette butt leachatesthe toxic soup produced when butts are soaked in water; Slaughter shows that only one cigarette butt will kill half the fish exposed to leachates in a controlled laboratory setting; Harris describes the history of how tobacco companies used filters as a marketing tool in an effort to allay fears about the harm caused by cigarettes, even after the companies knew that filters did not reduce risk. Smith and Novotny reveal the tobacco industry's long-standing concern about the cigarette butt problem and how it has responded by shifting responsibility for the job of cleanup back to its victims. ...
remove more than 5,000 cigarette butts from Jackson Park
About 30 students from three local high schools collected 5,000 to 6,000 cigarette butts on Saturday as they walked through Jackson Park.
butts: tiny trash that piles up
This "New York Times" article described some smokers' perception that cigarette butts are biodegradable and are safe to discard on beaches and sidewalks. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom indicated in 2009 that he would seek a 33 cent a pack tax to pay for the $11 million the city pays a year to clean up cigarette litter. It is believed that cigarette butts account for a quarter of the items tossed into streets and roadways. Tobacco manufacturers have indicated that they have worked on developing a biodegradable cigarette, but with no success. The Cigarette Litter Prevention Program, created by the nonprofit group Keep America Beautiful, which is financed by Philip Morris, found that butts make up 28 to 33 percent of all litter by piece. The Ocean Conservancy, which also receives money from Philip Morris, has found that butts account for 28 percent of littered items washing up on beaches worldwide. Researcher Thomas Novotny reported that there is enough poison in a discarded butt to kill half the minnows in a liter of water in 96 hours.
|News | Related Research|
|Curtis, C.; Novotny, T.E.; Lee, K.; Freiberg, M.; McLaughlin, I.; "Tobacco industry responsibility for butts: a model tobacco waste act," Tobacco Control [Epub ahead of print], March 1, 2016.|
|Krause, M.J.; Townsend, T.G., "Hazardous waste status of discarded electronic cigarettes," Waste Management [Epub ahead of print], March 4, 2015.|
|Bayer, R.; Bachynski, K.E., "Analysis and commentary: banning smoking in parks and on beaches: science, policy, and the politics of denormalization," Health Affairs 32(7): 1291-1298, July 2013.|
|Lee, J.G.L.; Ranney, L.M.; Goldstein, A.O., "Cigarette butts near building entrances: what is the impact of smoke-free college campus policies?," Tobacco Control 22(2): 107-112, March 2013.|
|Patel, V.; Thomson, G.W.; Wilson, N., "Cigarette butt littering in city streets: a new methodology for studying and results," Tobacco Control 22(1): 59-62, January 1, 2013.|
|Johns, M.; Coady, M.H.; Chan, C.A.; Farley, S.M.; Kansagra, S.M., "Evaluating New York City's smoke-free parks and beaches law: a critical multiplist approach to assessing behavioral impact," American Journal of Community Psychology [Epub ahead print], May 26, 2012.|
|Seitz, C.M.; Strack, R.W.; Orsini, M.M.; Rosario, C.; Haugh, C.; Rice, R.; Wyrick, D.L.; Wagner, L., "Quantifying littered cigarette butts to measure effectiveness of smoking bans to building perimeters," Journal of American College Health 60(4): 331-334, February 29, 2012.|
|Ariza, E.; Leatherman, S.P., "No-smoking policies and their outcomes on U.S. beaches," Journal of Coastal Research 28(1A Supplement): 143147, 2012.|
|[n.a.], "Tracking trash: 25 years of action for the ocean 2011 report," Ocean Conservancy, 2011.|
|Healton, C.G.; Cummings, K.M.; O'Connor, R.J., "Butt really? The environmental impact of cigarettes," Tobacco Control 20(Suppl 1): i1, April 21, 2011.|
|Smith, E.A.; Novotny, T.E., "Whose butt is it? tobacco industry research about smokers and cigarette butt waste," Tobacco Control 20(Suppl 1):i2-i9, April 2011.|
|Harris, B., "The intractable cigarette filter problem," Tobacco Control 20(Suppl 1):i10-i16, April 2011.|
|Novotny, T.E.; Hardin, S.N.; Hovda, L.R.; Novotny, D.J.; McLean, M.K.; Khan, S., "Tobacco and cigarette butt consumption in humans and animals," Tobacco Control 2011(Suppl 1): i17-i20, April 2011.|
|Sawdey, M.; Lindsay, R.P.; Novotny, T.E., "Smoke-free college campuses: no ifs, ands or toxic butts," Tobacco Control 20(Suppl 1): i21-i24, April 2011.|
|Slaughter, E.; Gersberg, R.M.; Watanabe, K.; Rudolph, J.; Stransky, C.; Novotny, T.E., "Toxicity of cigarette butts, and their chemical components, to marine and freshwater fish," Tobacco Control 20(Suppl 1): i25-i29, April 2011.|
|Moerman, J.W.; Potts, G.E., "Analysis of metals leached from smoked cigarette litter," Tobacco Control 20(Suppl 1): i30 - i35, April 2011.|
|Schneider, J.E.; Peterson, N.A.; Kiss, N.; Ebeid, O.; Doyle, A.S., "Tobacco litter costs and public policy: a framework and methodology for considering the use of fees to offset abatement costs," Tobacco Control 20(Suppl 1): i36-i41, April 2011.|
|Marah, M.; Novotny, T.E., "Geographic patterns of cigarette butt waste in the urban environment," Tobacco Control 20 (Suppl 1): i42-i44, April 21, 2011.|
|Barnes, R.L., "Regulating the disposal of cigarette butts as toxic hazardous waste," Tobacco Control 20 (Suppl1): i45-i48, 2011.|
|Novotny, T.E.; Lum, K.; Smith, E.; Wang, V.; Barnes, R., "Cigarettes butts and the case for an environmental policy on hazardous cigarette waste," International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 6(5): 1691-1705, May 2009.|
|Ariza, E.; Jimenez, J.A.; Sarda, R., "Seasonal evolution of beach waste and litter during the bathing season on the Catalan coast," Waste Management 28(12): 2604-2613, December 2008.|
|Santosa, I.R.; Friedricha, A.C.; Wallner-Kersanachb, M., "Influence of socio-economic characteristics of beach users on litter generation," Ocean & Coastal Management 48(9&10): 742-752, October 25, 2005.|
|Centers for Disease Control, "Ingestion of cigarettes and cigarette butts by children - Rhode Island, January 1994-July 1996," Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) 277(10):785-786, 1997.|