In fact, cigarette butts are a prevalent, lasting, and toxic form of marine debris, that can potentially harm marine organisms and their environments. Cigarette butts initially reach the waterways through their improper disposal on beaches, rivers and land and are transported to the coats by rainwater.
Moreover, the 2018 International Coastal Cleanup Report, by the Ocean Conservancy reported that 2,412,151 cigarette butts were collected in 2017 universally, which constitutes an increase from the 2016 number of 1,863,838 butts worldwide.
Cigarette filters contain a plastic-like material called cellulose acetate which on one hand may be easy in its production, but is not easily degradable on the other hand.
Notably, the fibers in the filters act just like plastic in the ocean. The UV rays from the sun break down the fibers into smaller chunks that don't vanish from the ocean, which eventually translates to one single filter ending up to many tiny micro-plastics in the waters.
The U.S. Federal government created the NOAA Marine Debris Program in order to address the marine debris problem.
NOAA recommends that there are some handful tips about what we can do in order to keep the oceans free form cigarette butts, lighters and cigar tips, such as:
- If you are a smoker, place your cigarette butt in a proper receptacle or buy a pocket ashtray for that matter. This can be like a metal box or vinyl purse that fits in your pocket or bag until you potentially properly dispose them in the trash.
- Recycle the butts if possible. Check to see if there any schemes in your area. The City of Vancouver, and other organizations like TerraCycle, will actually recycle your filters for you.
- Organize cleanups with your local community and document your findings in the Marine Debris Tracker App. Moreover, communicate the importance of proper disposal in your own community.