How do cigarette butts pollute the environment?

Plastic ruining our environment has been a huge public focus recently but what is coming into the public consciousness more is cigarette butts. 4.5 trillion cigarette buds are littered across the world every year. Of all cigarette butts it is believed two thirds aren’t disposed of correctly. Seeing cigarettes all over our streets and beaches is so normal now no one thinks twice about it.

Cigarette butts are one of the worst pollutants in our ocean due to the harmful chemicals that it releases. These chemicals damage our eco-system and ocean wildlife. The toxins in cigarettes and the butts poison fish, ruin their habits and make our beautiful countryside and ocean filthy.

Cigarette butts can take as little as 18 months to decompose or up to 10 years depending on the conditions they are disposed in. Butts are not recyclable or biodegradable so best case scenario they go in a bin and stay there.


5 impacts of cigarette butts on the environment:


Cigarette butts are not biodegradable.

There is a belief cigarette buds are made from cotton and decompose over time. This is not true. They are actually made partially of plastic fibres that cannot decompose and once in our environment make there way into our oceans, cities and countryside. Up to 98% of cigarette butts are made of plastic fibres.


Cigarette waste is toxic.

Cigarettes contain over 4,000 chemicals. This includes tar, arsenic, carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide to name a few.

cigarette contents


Cigarettes are slow to decompose.

Although cigarette butts can decompose within 18 months a recent study discovered that after 2 years only 38% of a butts had decomposed. If left to discompose in the ocean thousands of plastic fibres end up being consumed by animals. The plastic from cigarette butts is so heavily littered it is considered one of the most common forms of plastic in our environment.


Cigarette butts are one of the worst offenders for litter.

It is estimated cigarette butts are to blame for up to a third of all litter on our streets and roads. How often do you see drivers flicking butts our of their window? A report by the World Health Organisation claims that as well as the trillions of discarded butts there is also 680 million kilograms of tobacco waste. Every butt flicked out of a car window is destined to make its way into the habits of our wildlife.

Cigarette butts are the biggest pollutant of the ocean.

Cigarette polllution seagullAccording to a World Health Organisation (WHO) report, cigarette filters were created in the 1950’s by the tobacco industry in an effort to make smoking a “healthier” alternative to unfiltered cigarettes. The WHO report continued by saying, “As we now know, claims that filtered cigarettes were ‘healthier’ were fraudulent.”  Years of lies has led to the majority of smokers using filtered cigarettes that are full of plastic fibres. While the number of smokers is dropping the huge issue of litter for butts does not seem to be improving.


How can we stub this litter out?


  • Education.
  • Talk to your friends who smoke. If you see them about to flick a butt to the ground nicely ask them to put it in a bin. Most cities and towns have increased public bins due to litter. It’s far more cost effective to avoid litter all together.
  • Do you have a close enough relationship to someone to ask them not to smoke? Less smokers. Less butts.
  • Noticed a business that doesn’t provide enough bins or ash trays? Ask owners or management to provide more resource. It will benefit them too having a nice establishment and less staff time spent cleaning.


Small individual efforts and making One Change Now leads to a greater change we can all see. One decision at time we can make a difference. What will you do in your everyday life to make a positive impact on our environment?


Related blogs:

Ocean Plastic – What can we do today?
Ocean clean up – Fuerteventura.
Environmental damage, seeing is believing.

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