So What If I Litter?My cigarette butts are biodegradable, right?

WRONG!! If you throw your cigarette butts on the ground, they eventually find their way to the ocean and other water sheds and YOU are contributing to the most commonly found man-made waste that originates from land! "The Ocean Conservancy, a nonprofit environmental organization based in Washington, D.C., compiled the results of a shoreline cleanup day conducted by volunteers last year in 68 countries. It covered a combined 34,000 miles of shoreline and collected 7 million pounds of litter, 80 percent of which had been washed from land into the water. Of the 7.7 million items of debris collected worldwide in 2006, cigarettes and cigarette butts accounted for roughly 1.9 million, the sixth consecutive year they have topped the list.

Are Cigarette Butts Biodegradable?

"People think they are biodegradable," said Kathryn Novak, coordinator for the Florida branch of the Ocean Conservancy. They're not, so think before flicking that cigarette butt out the car window."

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The hope is that if smokers knew how much they are polluting the oceans and other natural water sheds, they might think twice about throwing their cigarette butts out the car window or stomping them into the ground rather than disposing of them in a proper waste receptacle.

Here are some statistics taken from the Surf Rider Foundation’s website. The level of environmental pollution cigarette butts contribute to our oceans and other water sheds is enough to anger anyone, but more importantly, change behaviors :

Litter Statistics

  • In just one day 230,000 cigarette butts were collected from California beaches during the 2000 Coastal Cleanup Day. Cigarette butts were the number one trash item found (
  • According to the Ocean Conservancy, cigarette butt litter accounts for one in every five items collected during cleanups, making it the most prevalent form of litter on earth.
  • There are over 176,000,000 pounds of discarded cigarette butts in the United States each year.
  • Over 4.5 trillion cigarettes are littered worldwide each year. They are the most littered item in the world (
Beach Litter Cleanup - Economic Impact of Litter

Economic Costs of Litter & Littering

  • Some of the costs are associated with the manpower and resources to pick up litter. Who picks up litter? Employees of parks, schools, hotels, restaurants, and local governments have to pick up litter, as well as volunteers who care about the environment.
  • Cigarettes are often littered within 10 feet of a permanent ashtray. Now that most buildings do not allow smoking inside, the problem of discarded butts on sidewalks, entryways and in courtyards is increasing.
  • Other costs are incurred when a discarded cigarette butt starts a fire that destroys a forest, a field, or people's homes. Fires caused by cigarette butts claim the lives of about 1,000 people and injure about 3,000 people each year.
  • The costs of "lost revenue" are incurred when tourists will not spend their vacation dollars to visit a beach or park that is full of litter and trash.

Environmental Cost of Cigarette Litter

No butts about it. The environmental costs of tobacco products are more than just smoke. They include the following:

  • Filters and plastic wrap from cigarette packages remain in the environment for long periods of time. Cigarette butts are composed of cellulose acetate, a form of plastic, which can take as many as (estimated 2 to 25) years to decompose. Cigarette butts may seem small, but with several trillion butts littered every year, the toxic chemicals add up!
  • Cigarettes contain over 165 chemicals - Some of the chemicals smokers inhale: (
    1. Benzo[a]pyrene: found in coal tar and cigarette smoke and it is one of the most potent cancer causing chemical in the world.
    2. Arsenic: deadly poison that causes diarrhea, cramps, anemia, paralysis and malignant skin tumors. It is used in pesticides.
    3. Acetone: It's one of the active ingredients in nail polish remover.
    4. Lead: Lead poisoning stunts growth, causes vomiting, and causes brain damage.
    5. Formaldehyde: causes cancer, can damage lungs, skin, and digestive systems. Embalmers use it to preserve dead bodies.
    6. Toluene: highly toxic, commonly use as an ingredient in paint thinner.
    7. Butane: highly flammable butane is one of the key components in gasoline.
    8. Cadmium: cause damage to the liver, kidneys and brain, and stays in the body for years.
    9. Ammonia: causes individuals to absorb more nicotine, keeping them hooked on smoking.
    10. Benzene: found in pesticides and gasoline.
  • Plastic pieces have been found in the stomachs of fish, birds, whales, and other marine creatures that mistake them as food, swallowing harmful plastic and toxic chemicals. Ingestion of plastic cigarette filters is a threat to wildlife. Sometimes even young children pick up and ingest cigarette butts.
  • Wind and rain often carry cigarette butts into waterways, where the toxic chemicals in the cigarette filters leak out, threatening the quality of the water and the creatures that live in it.
Biodegradation of Cellulose - Economic Impact of Litter

By Benjamin Haywood - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

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Now that you have the facts, please throw your cigarette butts only in designated waste receptacles and not on the ground!!

Data compiled by, Stephen Davis

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