Did you know that cigarettes do not degrade? They pollute.

What might be even more shocking is that cigarette litter is one of the top most littered items in the United States. By count, cigarette waste constitutes an estimated 30% of total litter found on U.S. shorelines, waterways and land, according to the Ocean Conservancy. An estimated 4.5 trillion cigarette butts are thrown away each year.

According to a Keep America Beautiful survey, a staggering 77 percent of respondents did not consider cigarettes butts to be litter.

To address that misconception, let’s consider the facts:

  • Each individual cigarette contains more than 4,000 chemicals, including arsenic, lead, butane and formaldehyde.
  • Cigarette filters are composed of cellulose acetate, which breaks down into plastic fibers, contributing to microplastic pollution.
  • Cigarette butts also contain tar, and produce smoke containing carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide and ammonia.

All of these contaminants discussed are introduced into the environment when disposed of irresponsibly. These chemicals and toxins can leach into soil and our waterways, primarily through storm drains that discharge directly into local streams, rivers and lakes.

When left behind in our environment, wildlife can mistake the litter for food and ingest it. Ingestion of cigarette butts can lead to choking, poisoning or blockage within the mammal, bird, fish, turtle ... the list goes on.

In one study of toxicity of cigarette butts to marine and freshwater fish, it was found that the concentration of one cigarette butt in one liter of water killed half of the fish exposed to it within 96 hours.

Various sources have stated that cigarette filters can take between 18 months to 10 years to degrade. The length of the degradation process is, of course, dependent on the environment in which it is littered.

So what can we do about local cigarette pollution?

The Florence/Darlington Stormwater Consortium is working in conjunction with Keep Florence Beautiful to bring a cigarette recycling program to Florence. Free, innovative cigarette receptacles are being offered to local restaurants interested in helping to remove cigarette litter from the streets of Florence.

For no cost to the participating restaurant, they are supplied with a Sidewalk Buttler receptacle, as well as materials needed to ship collected butts to TerraCycle, where they will be recycled. Cigarette filters can be turned into plastic pellets, and they can be turned into things like pallets and park benches. The organic materials left over are then composted by TerraCycle facilities.

If you are interested or know someone who might be interested in participating in our program, visit keepflorencebeautiful.org to read more about our Sidewalk Buttler program. Contact me at skr@clemson.edu for additional details.

Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to people of all ages, regardless of race, color, gender, religion, national origin, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or family status and is an equal opportunity employer.

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