Green Up Day: May 30, 2020 Get Involved Volunteer Coordinators

Changing behaviors

Loons on Peacham Pond in summer

Cigarette butts are litter!

According to the Ocean Conservancy, cigarette butt litter accounts for one in every five items collected during clean ups, 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.

Is cigarette waste toxic?

Yes. Cigarettes contain more than 7,000 chemicals, such as arsenic and formaldehyde. Littered cigarette butts leach toxic chemicals into the environment and can contaminate water. The toxic exposure can poison fish, as well as animals who eat cigarette butts.

What is in a typical cigarette filter?

98 percent of cigarette filters are made of plastic fibers that are tightly packed together, which leads to an estimated 1.69 billion pounds of cigarette butts winding up as toxic trash each year.

Are cigarettes biodegradable?

No—the plastic fibers in cigarettes are non-biodegradable, meaning they won't organically break down from living organisms.

How long does it take for cigarettes to decompose?

Although cigarettes don’t break down naturally, they can gradually decompose depending on environmental conditions like the rain and sun. Estimates on the time it takes vary, but a recent study found that a cigarette butt was only about 38 percent decomposed after two years.

According to Keep America Beautiful, here are some truths as to why smokers litter:

1.       Too few ash receptacles. For every additional ash receptacle, the littering rate for cigarette butts decreases 9%. Unfortunately, only 47% of observed sites have an ash or ash/trash receptacle. And for the past decade, ash trays as a standard feature in new cars have been phased out.

2.       Litter and cigarette butts are already on the ground. Smokers are more likely to litter if the environment contains any type of litter, not just cigarette butts. In fact, 77% of individuals in an intercept survey report that they thought cigarette butts were litter, but litter already on the ground is a strong predictor of cigarette butt littering.

3.       Most cigarette and cigar tip littering happens at “transition points.”  Tobacco products comprise 30% of litter at transition points, i.e. areas where a smoker must extinguish a cigarette or cigar before proceeding, such as outside retail stores, restaurants, bars, hotels and office buildings, before entering beaches, parks or other recreation areas; and at roadside rest areas, parking lots, bus shelters, and train platforms. 

Please don’t throw your cigarette butts on the ground! Place your cigarette butts in public cigarette receptacles. If you aren’t near a receptacle, there are inexpensive metal pocket ashtrays available online for use when you are enjoying nature or driving in your car.