The consumption of tobacco, in addition to causing serious health problems, poses a great threat to the environment.
Around 6 billion cigarettes are smoked in the world a year. Some 4.5 billion end up lying in public spaces. In recent years, campaigns on caring for the environment have focused on plastic pollution, but according to studies, this is not the main cause of garbage generation in the world, but cigarette butts are.
The NGO Ocean Conservancy of 2017, prepared a report where it says that cigarette butts account for 13% of the world's waste. Their lightness leads them to travel thousands of kilometers, contaminating different ecosystems far from their point of origin. They last in the environment between 7 and 12 years, although some claim that their harmful effects can last up to 25 years. Butts are transported to the sea from land areas due to rain, wind or sewers.
The substances present in the cigarette butts when they come into contact with water, expand producing harmful effects in nature. Cellulose acetate is one of them, it is a thermoplastic from which cigarette filters are made and harbors toxic substances: polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, nicotine, arsenic and other heavy metals. In addition, it has been found that cellulose acetate is not biodegradable, but photodegradable, which means that the ultraviolet rays of the sun can break the filter into much smaller pieces.
The impact of cigarette butts on birds
Due to the degradation of natural habitats, some birds are impaired when making their nests. Given the lack of natural resources, they are forced to search for new materials, including cigarette butts, which endanger their health and that of their young.
Some species of birds do not insert the entire butt into the nests but take fibers from the butts and select them in the same way that they select twigs, leaves or feathers.
According to some studies, the birds have as a strategy the use of the fibers of cigarette butts used to repel insects that could affect their nests, such as ticks.
Although the control of insects with the butts is effective for the birds, the study also determined that the nests with greater amounts of nicotine fibers presented chicks with greater diseases and genetic disorders.
In marine ecosystems, cigarette butts also pollute the water and alter the ecological cycle of animal and plant species, putting their health at risk due to the accumulation of toxic substances in their body.
Butts in the city
They do not seem so because of their size, but cigarette butts increase cleaning tasks in cities, generating a cost to all citizens for the maintenance of public spaces. Despite cleaning efforts, both manual and machine collection methods are not enough to completely remove these small residues.
It is still unintelligible that with so many campaigns not to litter on the street, smokers continue to throw their cigarette butts on the ground. Ideally, they should throw them in the corresponding ashtrays installed in the cities or save them for when they have a basket nearby.
Butts on the beaches
Beaches are one of the public spaces most affected by this type of waste, since people have a bad habit of burying cigarette butts under the sand. For that reason, cigarette butts have become the main component of litter on beaches.
Eradicate tobacco an extreme measure?
Eradicating tobacco would be the most effective solution, but there are other less drastic options with which we would be able to reduce pollution in the environment, such as replacing the basic component of filters, cellulose acetate, with another biodegradable and much less harmful. Although, without a doubt, the most powerful and effective tool of all to alleviate the impact of cigarette butts is education. You have to work from an early age on awareness of not throwing garbage on the ground, and less in nature.
People have the necessary tools to solve the impact of our negative actions, we just have to use them correctly.
With information from: