An estimated 4.5 TRILLION cigarette butts enter the environment every year. Just take a few moments to let that sink in, tell someone it’s a truly frightening figure, 4.5 trillion cigarette butts!
Apart from the littering itself, the major issue is the filters. They are not, as commonly thought, made of paper, but cellulose acetate, a type of plastic which persists in the environment for many years. As with many types of marine litter, cigarette ends can be mistaken for food and eaten by marine animals. They have been found in the guts of whales, dolphins, sea birds and turtles where they can leach toxic chemicals, cause inflammation of the animal’s digestive system and occasionally, if they cause a blockage of the gut, even death.
The cigarette filters are designed to absorb tar and chemicals such as cadmium, lead and arsenic. When filters enter the water these chemicals cause pollution by leaching out. Experiments have shown that just one cigarette filter is toxic enough to kill water fleas in eight litres of water (K. Register, 2000).