The Environmental Impact of Cigarette Butt Waste: Just the Facts
In this one-page summary we provide the essential facts that everyone should know about cigarette butt waste in the environment. We encourage you to download and share it!
Quick Navigation to Facts About Cigarette Butts
- A cigarette butt is a combination of a plastic filter and the remnants of a smoked cigarette.
- The filter is non-biodegradable, and the tobacco remnant is toxic but biodegrades into the environment because it is an organic substance
- Cigarette butts are the number one littered item in the world, with several years as the number one single item picked up on beach cleanup days in the United States and globally
Cigarettes and Cigarette Filters Collected in the United States in the International Coastal Cleanup, 1996-2007.
Source: Ocean Conservancy 2007
- Cellulose acetate–a type of plastic; some have added charcoal
- Filters out some larger residues, tars, particulates
- Delivers less irritating smoke (through ventilation, etc)
- They make it easier to smoke and to initiate smoking
- They reassure smokers somehow that filtered cigarettes may be ‘safer’ for them than unfiltered cigarettes
- They are NOT a health device; the reduction in lung cancer deaths seen recently is not due to modifications in the cigarette but to widespread smoking cessation
- They may increase the number of cigarettes smoked per day because of less irritating smoke
- They allow more deeply inhaled smoke, with a possible increase in risk for adenocarcinoma of lung
- Cigarette filters are by their nature ‘defective.’ Researchers have found ‘fallout’ of filters’ plastic particles lodged in the small airways of smokers. See Pauly JL, Mepani AB, Lesses JD, Cummings KM, Streck RJ. Cigarettes with defective filters marketed for 40 years: what Philip Morris never told smokers. Tob Control 2002;11:j51-j61. (LINK)
- 376 billion cigarettes were consumed in the U.S. in 2005, 98% are filtered
- 5.5 trillion cigarettes are consumed globally every year
- Of these, 4.95 trillion are filters, deposited somewhere in the environment worldwide
- Weight and volume of discarded filters (Source: Register, KM. Underwater Naturalist, Bulletin of the American Littoral Society, 2000):
20 filters (one pack)= 0.12 oz (10 ml)
10,000 filters (one year’s consumption at 20 cigs/day for one smoker)= 3.75 lbs (5 liters)
1,000,000 filters=375 lbs (500 liters)
Therefore, 141 million lbs of filters (188 million liters) were dumped into the US environment in 2005
- One campus (Penn State) took 2 weeks and $150,000 in labor costs to remove all butts from its campus
- San Francisco City government is currently conducted a cost analysis to estimate what might be a reasonable cigarette butt waste fee, to be used to clean up butts from streets, tourist venues, and storm drains
- More economic studies are need to obtain true costs data on cigarette butt litter; these would include direct costs of cleanup as well as indirect costs of lost environmental value
- There are anecdotal reports of butt consumption by dogs, fish, turtles, birds, and other marine life. More research is needed to assess the impact of butt consumption among wild animals.
- The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a study of butt consumption by children in Rhode Island in 1996. One-third of the 146 children who consumed cigarette butts had signs and symptoms of nicotine poisoning. See: CDC. Ingestion of cigarettes and cigarette butts by children– Rhode Island, January 1994-July 1996. Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 1997;46(6):125-8
- Theoretically, 200 cigarette butts would kill an adult human being if all were consumed.
- Studies are currently being done on fresh water and marine fish to determine toxicity of cigarette butt leachates (water contaminated with cigarette butts)
- Experiments using Daphnia (water fleas) and other microorganisms have shown cigarette butt leachates to be lethal. See: Micevska T, Warne M, Pablo F, Patra R. Variation in, and causes of, toxicity of cigarette butts to a cladoceran and microtox organisms. Arch Environ Contam Toxicol. 2006;50(2):205-12