Cigarettes and the Environment: It’s Time to Kick Your Smoking Habit (Not the Cigarette Butts) to the Curb

Cigarettes and the Environment: It’s Time to Kick Your Smoking Habit (Not the Cigarette Butts) to the Curb

I know a lot of smokers who started young. It was the experimenting and all the sneaking around that made it fun. There’s sexiness associated with it too – whether you see it dangling loosely on James Dean’s lips in Rebel Without a Cause or when a cigarette is being shared by a couple on a bed post-coital. Meanwhile, mastering the art of flicking the cig when you’re done with it adds to the cool, I-don’t-give-an-eff factor.

But aside from looking badass, there is nothing beneficial from smoking these cancerous sticks. The consequences are disastrous in more ways than one.

Let me explain.

Most people know the health implications of smoking. Tobacco users particularly have accepted that smoking equals escorting death, but the ‘gun’ they thought they’ve been messing around with is actually a ‘bomb’ that kills not just one person but the whole planet. 

Naturally, the first thing we think about is the health risk that comes with it. However, that is just a minor albeit somewhat selfish problem to consider. Here’s the bigger-than-just-the-individual problem. Smoking brings tremendous destruction to our natural environment.

Cigarettes and the Environment- It's Time to Kick Your Smoking Habit (Not the Cigarette Butts) to the Curb

How cigarette litter impacts the environment

Here in the Philippines where I live, the government has implemented numerous campaigns against smoking. There are health campaigns, ‘war on waste’ campaigns and ‘save the youth’ programs. The cost of cigarettes has dramatically increased; the fine when caught smoking in public is expensive and there’s also a penalty for littering. While smoking in public had been contained, cigarette butts still invade the streets. 

In 2015, two million cigarette butts were collected along the world’s shorelines as part of Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup making it the number one pollutant in the world. Around one-third of the world’s trash is made up of cigarette waste and most people are unaware of this. There’s more hype against the use of plastics, which is overshadowing the issue of cigarette butt litter.

Related Post: Top 10 Items Collected at Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup All Made of Plastic

Here’s what people need to remember: animals eat this particular trash; the filter from one cigarette contains toxic chemicals, one such harmful chemical is arsenic which is used to kill rats; the filter is also made of non-biodegradable plastic; and one cigarette butt soaked in just a litre of water over four days releases enough toxins to kill half of the fish exposed to them.

A handful of disciplined smokers can muster all their strength and their will to stop this stinking habit but there’s no getting rid of the filthy litter. Some argue that cigarette butts will eventually decompose but it depends on weather conditions to determine how long before they totally rot (remember, they are made of plastic which takes a long time to break down) and even then it will never completely lose its toxicity. The chemicals found in the filters will just seep their way into the earth or water, affecting the food we eat and wildlife too.

So what can be done?

Recycle cigarette butts

In another part of the world, something is already being done with these spent butts. In New Jersey, recycling company, TerraCycle, collects the butts and are working to turn them into plastic lumber that can be transformed into pallets, benches, and other useable items.

According to National Geographic, EcoTech Displays is another company which also has started to come up with a system that can recycle cigarette butts into insulation, jewelry and even apparel.

Work in progress

Meanwhile in April 2018 in Subic, Pampanga in the Philippines, an evironmental campaign called the #HeaviestButtsCampaign went viral. Created by the SBMA Ecology Center, the campaign encouraged Filipinos to pick up cigarette butts, collect them and bring them to the SBMA Ecology Center office to be weighed. For each kilogram of discarded cigarettes brought in by a collector, 300 pesos was paid.

This campaign was conceived after the organisation had participated in its yearly International Coastal Clean-up in Subic Bay. They discovered that cigarette butts was one of the top three items collected off of its coastline.

Related Post: World Oceans Day Installation Shows 1,580kg Plastic Waste Dumped in Australia’s Oceans Every Hour

Although the campaign is still in the works and no further developments have been announced since the launch, SMBA Ecology Centre hopes to up-cycle the cigarettes into cement bricks. 

Many netizens were proud of the Filipino government for launching such a successful campaign that inspired so many people to participate in it. An innovative idea from the Pinoys that ignited the eco-warrior within its residents.

Currently, cigarette butts are still an eyesore, but somewhere in other parts of the nation, eco-warriors are picking up another litterbug’s trash in the hopes of improving the world.W

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Images courtesy of Unsplash.

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