We all know that smoking is hazardous to our health, but we don't often think about cigarette butts as toxic when we see them lying on the ground. There is mounting evidence, however, to suggest that they are just that.
Although it's widely understood that cigarettes contain trace amounts of poisons like arsenic, butts have historically been viewed as simply a nuisance or an eyesore. Communities have even focused litter cleanup efforts on other types of waste due to the misconception that cigarettes biodegrade.
Cigarette filters are made from cellulose acetate, a material that is biodegradable; however, because of the preservatives contained in cigarettes, most filters do not readily degrade. In most instances, butts remain intact unless they end up amongst sewage waste or are otherwise exposed to harsh elements. Even in these cases, the cigarette waste takes approximately 9 months to break down fully.
The problem of cigarette waste is massive. The Ocean Conservancy found that in 2010, their program International Coastal Cleanup was responsible for removing 1 million cigarette butts from beaches and waterways in the United States. Butts accounted for 31 percent of the waste removed from these areas, and it is logical to assume that many more butts remained in parts of the country that ICC did not visit.
A new push is underway for lawmakers to impose stricter regulations on tobacco companies to produce more eco-friendly filters and to place harsher consequences upon those who drop butts out of car windows and on the ground. If you're a smoker, strive to be more conscientious about how you dispose of your butts, switch to filter-less cigarettes, roll your own, or best of all, take steps to quit entirely. The planet and your body will thank you.