five trillion cigarette butts are thrown away globally each year, making them “the most commonly discarded waste product in the world.”
The problem is not trivial. Would we use the same approach for disposing of old pesticides, medical waste or unused paints as we do cigarette butts? Likely not.
Discarded cigarette butts are more than an eyesore. They end up tossed onto the ground, leeching into soil, or getting washed into storm drains where they pollute water.
Cigarette butts can also be toxic to young children, pets and wildlife. If a child swallows one, the nicotine can be poisonous or lead to vomiting, nausea, gagging, and a pale or flushed appearance. The same goes for animals.
The paper and tobacco in butts may be biodegradable, but filters take longer to break down. The environmental threat posed by cigarettes can last for years.
Then there is the potential fire hazard of tossing a still-lit cigarette butt out a car window or flicking it into bushes. Imagine the damage that could be done (and too often is done – ed.) in extremely hot and dry conditions like last summer.
In October, Toronto City Council approved a bylaw requiring business owners to clean up cigarette butts outside their establishments or install outdoor disposal bins for butts. Failure to obey could result in a $300 fine.
In Vancouver, a butt-recycling pilot program has been operating since 2013, with more than 100 receptacles set up around the downtown area for smokers to dispose of their butts. To date, more than 200 pounds of cigarette butts have been collected for recycling.
Smokers can do their part too by ensuring cigarette butts are completely extinguished and safely disposed of in ashtrays. While these butts will likely wind up in municipal landfills, at least they will be in engineered facilities designed to safely store waste.
By butting out completely, smokers can make an even bigger difference by cutting off the source of the problem. While quitting is never easy, the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge DistrictHealth Unit (hkpr.on.ca) has many quit-smoking support programs and resources to help.
Let’s act. Cigarettes are both a health and environmental hazard.
Dearbhla Lynch is a Health Promoter with the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit.