Action: Smoke responsibly

Cost of taking action: £/$/€ NIL

Smoking is, as we all know, very unhealthy, but did you know how much damage it also does to our natural environment?

So if you smoke, our plea is that you take action and “smoke responsibly”.

We are particularly concerned about the disposal of toxic cigarette butts/ends, which are very harmful. It has been estimated that some 3 trillion of the 5 trillion cigarette ends smokers dispose of each year are simply thrown away there and then, not disposed of properly.

There are four things smokers can do that will really help:

  • Dispose of cigarette packaging properly, separating and recycling it where possible
  • Dispose of cigarette butts responsibly
  • Be conscious of the toxins in your smoke, even outdoors, and consider others
  • Reduce the amount you smoke (or quit altogether if possible), which has environmental benefits in addition to the financial and health benefits you will already know about

Disposing of packaging

Cigarettes are not generally packed in a very environmentally responsible way. They are typically wrapped in an internal paper, foil or paper/foil combination, then packed in a card carton, and then wrapped in cellophane. In addition, packs of 20 are then packed into cartons of 10 packets, which are again wrapped in cellophane. On top of all that, retail packaging adds another layer. Bulk shipping adds another layer on top of that.

At the individual smoker level you should make sure that the actual card cartons are put into a recycling bin, after separating them from the foil and cellophane. The foil and plastic may also be recyclable depending on the manufacturer and local recycling facilities.

Around the world humans consume over 5 trillion (yes, trillion) cigarettes each year (2016 figures). That means tens of billions of pieces of cigarette packaging. It’s a significant contributor to landfill, litter and resource use.


Disposing of cigarette butts

Butts are one of the most poisonous things that individuals dispose of, either into the waste management system or directly into the environment. They kill wildlife directly through choking and blocking the digestive system, and by leaching toxins.

Cigarette filters are not biodegradable; they contain cellulose acetate, a type of plastic that can take many, many years to degrade, as well as all the harmful toxins filtered from the cigarette being smoked. A 2011 study (external link) determined that a single butt in a litre of water can poison and kill fish.

The problem is that cigarette ends are small (and so appear innocuous), hot (so you want to get rid of it quickly), and dirty (so you don’t want to hold onto it). Therefore, smokers tend to drop them where they stand, literally stamping them out and leaving them on the ground. In public places, this is a dirty and antisocial habit. In the environment, they are poisonous and unsightly.

However, responsible smokers will take measures to try and ensure their butts do not contaminate our local environments or our natural world. Here are the three simple measures you can take to reduce your impact:

  1. Consider using cigarettes without filters
  2. Don’t stamp out your cigarette and leave it on the ground, make sure it is out and put it in a bin
  3. Carry a container to put your butts in, for example an old tobacco tin, and take them home

Why is all this important?.

By smoking responsibly, and/or less, you will:

  • reduce plastic pollution from butts, which are non-biodegradable and many take years to break down.
  • reduce air pollution, including the emission of the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and methane
  • reduce the contamination of waterways, seas and coastlines, including our beaches
  • reduce unsightly and dirty littering
  • reduce impact on fish, which ingest butts thinking they are food
  • reduce the poisons being introduced into our own human food chains and water supplies
  • reduce illness and deaths in farm animals (our food chain again), pets and wildlife
  • save our councils and economy the clean-up costs
  • reduce the number of fires and forest fires (wildfires) *
  • reduce others’ exposure to second-hand smoke

* Did you know that about 17,000 people worldwide die each year because of fires started by cigarette lighters or discarded burning cigarettes. Fires also cause massive property damage and further environmental damage including biodiversity loss, carbon release, habitat loss, air pollution, deforestation and animal deaths.

Please, if you smoke, smoke responsibly, it’s a bigger impact on the environment than most of us have realised.

And, if you haven’t done so already, please sign up to our bulletin “Take Action” using the form below. Thank you for your support.

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