The Environmental Effect Of Cigarette Butt Litter

Throughout the world there has been an abrupt rise in carelessly discarded cigarette butts littering beaches, parks, and other outdoor recreation areas. Most people today are aware of the serious health affects, although not as many are aware of the damaging environmental concerns. Since 1990, when the first Clean Up Australia Day commenced, cigarette butts have been the most collected items. Thirty-two billion cigarette butts are discarded in Australia every year and 700,000 are discarded in the sand at Bondi beach at any one time. (CUA) Each day it is approximated that ‘4.5 trillion cigarette butts are littered world wide'[1]. In recent year, changes in legislation has brought upon smoking restrictions in public places, forcing smokers outside, where they have a higher tendency to litter their butts. During rain, water flow sweeps rubbish, including butts down our drain, through our storm water pipes, ending up in our harbours, beaches and rivers. Stormwater is not treated so all litter is from the drains is washed into the waterways. 95% of litter on beaches comes from suburban streets and brought by stormwater drains.

Cigarette butts have been found in the guts of whales, dolphins, seabirds and turtles after they have mistaken them for food. One turtles was reported to have swallowed up to 200 butts. The toxic chemicals in the cigarette butts can ’cause inflammation of the animal’s digestive system and, if they trigger a blockage of the gut, lead to death.’ [2] Young children have been known to pick up cigarette butts off the ground and eat them. One cigarette butt holds on average 1mg of nicotine. Three cigarette butts has the ability to poison a child. An individual cigarette contains approximately 4000 chemicals and is ‘estimated 100 000 tonnes of polluted air is exhaled by smokers in NSW each year.'[3] ‘Butts contain hazardous chemicals such as cadmium, a form of arsenic and lead that are partially filtered out during the smoking process.’3 Cigarettes and matches are the source of half of all fires in our built environment (1995 NSW Fire Brigade Annual Report). Thoughtlessly discarded cigarette butts can smoulder up for three hours and can cause fires. ‘

As many as 1200 grass and bushfires each year are attributed to cigarette butts.’ [4] In attempts to reduce the litter of cigarette butts on beaches in Australia, Manly, Bondi, Bronte and Tamarama Councils have banned smoking. ‘Cr Moscatt said more needed to be done to curb cigarette butt littering despite education campaigns which included giving away personal ashtrays.'[5] The ban extends to sporting grounds and within ten metres of children’s play areas. Over in the UK, a campaign group, Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) formed for water-users to be able to use the beach without the fear of sickness or long-term illness. The group distribute plastic film canisters with their logo attached to them, for smokers to dispose of their cigarette butts more wisely. It has taken SAS twelve years to become part of the core team of decision makers who re-write the key water legislation that will affect every inland and coastal recreational water user in the UK. Clean Up Australia’s goal is to play an active role in cleaning up the environment and to raise awareness of issues through community events, participation and education.

Every year CUA holds a voluntary national clean up annually. Through their website, pamphlets, community projects and other learning activities the educate the population about building and sustaining a clean environment. A littering cigarette smoker would only see dropping their cigarette butt as a minute piece of litter and nothing to concern about. Because there is already so much cigarette butt litter it seems like only a molecule contribution. They get taxed for their cigarettes and forced outside due to new regulations. Smokers are no longer allowed to smoke in areas such as beaches, parks and sports grounds. Some Universities have banned smoking from their campuses, not for health reasons, but for problems with littering. Dr MacDonald states the ban will ‘…make smokers feel more uncomfortable about lighting up.’ [6] Premier Bob Carr warns tough penalties for anyone who discards a cigarette butt out a car window.

“Discarding a cigarette butt in bushfire conditions can attract a sentence of at least five years if it could be regarded as arson.”[7] Carr encourages people to ring crime stoppers when they see others discarding cigarette butts, especially in fire seasons. Manly Council, the first council to take on board smoking restrictions is now encouraging other councils to do the same. Many are just watching to see what results occur, especially during summer months. Stopping the smoking on the beaches will reduce passive smoking on overcrowded days. Although you can sweep up cigarette butts in the streets you cannot on the beach and they get buried in the sand and blown out to sea. Cigarette butts and other toxic wastes often enter our beaches through waterways and SAS is trying to prevent this by changing legislations of what gets pumped into our oceans, harbours, etc. Clean Up Australia Day does not stop the source of the litter and only creates a temporary solution to the problem.

The Clean Up Australia organization tries to create better awareness and promote smokers to do the correct thing. By combining these waste management solutions together a cleaner environment for Australia. Nonetheless, more needs to be done about pollution in our waterways and better education for the public. Smoking outside of shopping facilities such as Charlestown Square has increased health effects on children, especially at public bus stops. Cigarette smoke is unbearable and butts litter the ground and wash into the drainage system. Environmental education schemes that connect with the public on a personal level need to be put in place to try to reduce the consequences of the damage of smoking. Media influence in this report has only increased my beliefs on the selfishness on smoking. It damages your health, the environment and the health of those around you. Once cigarette butts enter the ocean they have the ability to kill marine life, contaminate water, and water undesirable to swim in

. ———————– [1] Cigarette Litter Org www.cigarettelitter.org [2] http://observer.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,6903,1222753,00.html. -Marine Conservation Society [3] Cigarette Butts and the Environment- Clean up Australia http://www.cleanup.com.au/attachments/CUA%20Cigarette%20Butts%20Fact%20Sheet .pdf [4] NSW Fire Brigade 1995 [5] Bondi Beach may give smoking the flick- Cr Moscatt [6] ABC Online- Beach smoking ban targets pollution, health -Dr MacDonald [7] Bob Carr- Dob in Cigarette Throwers http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2002/12/05/1038950148159.html?oneclick=true