Cigarette butts are the most common item of trash collected during beach clean-up events. They also comprise an estimated 30-50% of all trash collected from roads and streets.
But they’re more than just a litter problem. When you throw cigarette butts on the ground or flush them down your toilet, you’re polluting the Bay.
When butts are dropped on sidewalks, parking lots, streets or into gutters, they are often swept down storm drains with rain or irrigation runoff. Our storm drains flow untreated into local creeks and the Bay.
When you flush butts down the toilet, they travel through sewers to the wastewater treatment plant. Treatment plants are designed to remove human biological wastes. They cannot remove all traces of toxic chemicals.
Yes, cigarette butts are loaded with toxic chemicals!
The purpose of a cigarette butt (filter) is to trap the toxic chemicals created in the smoke when the cigarette burns. Nicotine is the chemical most people associate with cigarettes, but that’s only one of the toxins captured by the filter. “Tar” refers to more than 3,500 chemical particles (including arsenic, vinyl chloride, benzene, hydrogen cyanide, mercury and lead) generated by a burning cigarette.
Those toxic chemicals, many of which are especially lethal to aquatic life, leach out of the butts when exposed to water.
But that’s not the only problem with cigarette butts. Most are made of cellulose acetate, a form of plastic. Plastic is not biodegradable, but it does eventually break down into small pieces. Fish and birds mistake these pieces for food and eat them, often with fatal consequences and long-lasting damage to the ecosystem.
This is one type of pollution that is easily preventable.
If you smoke, please dispose of your butts properly. Don’t throw them on the ground. Don’t flush them.
Otherwise, that little flick of your wrist can do serious harm to our water environment.