Approximately 15%-17% of the U.S. population smokes cigarettes, down from 21% in 2005 according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. While this is a good trend from a health perspective, the rise in “smoke free” establishments for our majority non-smoking population has had an unintended consequence: fewer accommodations for those who do smoke means that many cigarette butts end up as litter.
Ashtrays are no longer standard in most new cars, so the sides of our highways are littered with flicked cigarette butts. Many buildings that don’t allow smoking indoors do not provide ash cans for proper disposal of cigarettes outside. In the case of smoke-free open spaces such as beaches, parks, and campuses, there are often no ashcans nearby.
According to the CDC, cigarette butts are the most commonly thrown out waste worldwide. Approximately 1.69 BILLION pounds of butts wind up as toxic trash each year, creating a huge environmental, health, and economic problem.
Cigarette butts are NOT biodegradable! Cigarette filters are made from cellulose acetate, a plastic that can break into smaller pieces, but will never biodegrade or disappear. Also, toxic substances are leached from the filter and tobacco remnants. This hazardous material not only persists in the environment for some time, but also is often ingested by wildlife and pets, not to mention small children, who suffer serious health problems as a result.
American for Non-Smokers Rights makes the following suggestions:
- Educate community stakeholders about the impact of tobacco waste on the environment
- Include pre and post butt clean ups as part of smoke-free beach, park, and campus policies, along with clear, positive signage about the policy
Clean Fairfax continues to work on both these efforts. We also encourage smokers to purchase car cup holder ashtrays and/or portable pocket size ashtrays. These are readily available online and are inexpensive.
If you are a smoker, think before you flick.