Ideas Needed – What Can We Do About Littered Cigarette Butts?


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Smoking rates have declined steadily here in the United States, due to high taxes and the availability of health information, but the fact remains that 20.6% of our adult population still smokes cigarettes. That’s an estimated 46 million people discarding cigarette butts every day, and many of them are still throwing them out the window of their moving cars or dropping them on the sidewalk. Just yesterday morning I had one land on my windshield after being heaved out of a monster truck in front of me, and it got me to wondering — what could we all do to stop people from tossing their trash on the ground?

While smokers don’t seem to mind too much when they are inhaling the smoke, finished cigarette butts are not only not biodegradable, but their filters are made of cellulose acetate (a plastic) and they are full of nicotine, tar, arsenic, vinyl chloride, acetone, and mercury, among thousands of other chemicals. When thrown out a car window or dropped on the ground, these butts full of chemicals can leach into our aquifers and drinking water, find their way into rivers and streams, and even end up being eaten by small animals. The ingredients are toxic to wildlife, especially to saltwater and freshwater fish, and annually leave behind over 1.5 billion pounds of litter around the globe.

So what can we do about it, smokers and non-smokers alike?

Well, that’s what I was wondering and I wanted to ask for your input. There are all sorts of anti-smoking advertisements and campaigns, but we know that those don’t actually do anything to stop people from smoking. So is there anything we can do to at least clean up the act of smoking, so that those who choose to continue doing so will be responsible in the disposal of their trash? Look on any street corner and chances are it’s covered with old cigarette butts; we can do better, can’t we? I mean, you wouldn’t just drop a soda can or candy wrapper on the ground when you were done with it, so why is it OK to drop a cigarette butt? We may not be able to stop people from smoking, but is there anything we can do to educate smokers about how their trash is negatively impacting the planet and the rest of us?

If I can gather enough responses from you guys, I will put together a one-sheet of sorts which I will make available here on the site for everyone. And if you are so inclined, you can please pass that information along to your local city managers or waste management folks, encouraging them to develop a campaign to educate smokers on the dangers of littered cigarette butts. If we can’t get smokers to quit smoking for their own health, maybe we can encourage them to at least be responsible with their trash.

What do you think? Should we give it a go? I need your help to make it happen, so if you have some advice or ideas, please weigh in via the comment section after this post. I look forward to hearing what you have to say!

Photo from BigStock

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  1. I know that people I’ve talked to in the past (my husband was one of them when we first met) have no idea that cigarettes contain plastic or that they contain things that are harmful to wildlife or their own water supply. They think they can throw them out the window because they’ll just biodegrade. Education is definitely part of the answer.

  2. I would say that we should not spend more money on educating the health dangers of smoking, but focus on enforcement of anti-littering laws – which should already be in place at most municipalities. To assist the local law enforcement – as officer-power (man-power) is often over taxed – a call line or website would be an excellent idea. Spend money on educating drivers about cell phone use and littering harms.

  3. I smoke. I have tried to quit several times and as yet have not been successful. I have never been a litterer. My mother raised us to not litter and that early conditioning stuck very well. When I am with another smoker who drops their butt on the ground, i will pick it up and show them how I remove the last bit of tobacco and paper and then pocket or put in a trash receptacle the filter. I did not know what they are made of and your blog post has certainly made me think about this and is more encouragement to me to just quit. I have tried smoking filterless, but that totally did not work for me. i just googled “cotton filtered cigarettes” and this website offers cotton filters with which to roll your own
    i may have to try this. another thing i do is when i am out walking and find a plastic bag (they are everywhere) i pick it up and then use it to put in trash that i also pick up as i walk. Now that saint louis has recycling dumpsters, i also pick up that too. i don’t always do this, but often enough. when i am out in my car, i will pick up recyclables too. sigh. i really wish people where more mindful about their surroundings and took more pride in them.

  4. The biggest part of this problem is the manufactuers themselves. Many of the poisions in the butts are not required but help keep people addicted. How about gathering the butts and sending them back to the mfgs? Let them be responsible for disposing them. If they want to make the product, they should be held responsible for identifying what to do with the remains. The tobacco companies are not longer as profitable because people are becoming more educated. Their answer is to ship their product to other countries and give them free to those 18 and younger. What they need to do is find alternative uses for the tobacco. Of course if the EPA wasn’t bought off like the FDA they would enforce the laws on the books and give these mfgs. incentives to find alternate uses

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