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Cigarette Butt Pollution | Why are we even talking about straws?

Written by: Hendrik

Category: News, Pollution

Updated on:


Let’s talk about butts, baby. No, not the nice curvy ones we all sit on daily, the ones we use to filter the cigarette smoke. Or so we thought?

More to that in a minute.

Now, I speak from a decade of experience here. To fit in with the cool kids, I started to smoke at 18, and I don’t do things half-assed, so I smoked a pack a day.

Yeah, I know not very smart, but we all have to learn life lessons.

At some stage, I decided that rolling these little suckers would be better. I bought papers, filters, and tobacco. While I did enjoy the process of rolling a cigarette, and it was also cheaper to roll, it still was a bad habit.

how to be smoke free min

I tricked myself into believing I could smoke healthy (haha, not so much). I started rolling American Spirit tobacco, which is preservative-free and costs much more than your normal rolling tobacco. (there goes the rolling is cheaper part out of the window).

Nonetheless, I have been smoke-free since 2012. Hold on, it wasn’t easy, and I had many failed attempts, but I finally knocked this terrible habit on the head.

How, you might wonder?

Firstly, I made sure that I absolutely wanted to quit.

Secondly, I had to create a lot of pain for not quitting. Questions you can ask yourself are:

What happens to my health in one year, three years, or five years from now?

What will it cost me if I don’t change? Physically, Mentally, and Emotionally.

I was in so much mental pain for not quitting that I had no other option. Plus, I was dating a girl the following week who hated smokers, leaving me no choice because I really liked her.

See, people are often motivated by moving away from pain. But don’t wait for the doctor to tell you you got lung cancer, which might be too late.

Start now!

I get it. This sounds very easy. Trust me, I’ve been there and know it can take years. It can be frustrating, and you are in a constant battle with yourself, but don’t give up on your health, is all I am saying. Enough of the lecture here, my last piece of advice…

If you want to quit smoking, I highly recommend reading the book:

“The easy way to quit smoking” by Allen Carr. Funnily he died of lung cancer. 


Don’t expect to read some magic sentence that will break your habit once and for all. There is no magic here, and it will just clarify what you already know, which might be enough.
It worked for me ( the second time around), but it worked. Plus, it’s only $15, which I believe in some countries, e.g., Australia is a cigarette pack.

Allen Carr The easy way to stop smoking

What’s in my butt?

My rule of thumb has become; if I can’t even pronounce the ingredients in my food, or in this case, cigarettes. Why should I bother putting them in my system? Try and pronounce these:

  • triacetin: plasticizer (applied to bond the fibers)
  • titanium dioxide: delustrant (to reduce fiber shine)
  • mineral oil: lubricant (for production of fibers)
  • sorbitan monolaurate: surfactant or emulsifier
  • ethoxylated sorbitan monolaurate: surfactant or emulsifier
What's the World's Most Littered Plastic Item? Cigarette Butts | National Geographic

Cigarette butt litter and the environment.

Cigarette butts are the most littered item in the world and are not biodegradable. Apparently, 70% of the population thinks otherwise.

Why are we banning plastic bags and blaming straws as a danger to our environment, but cigarette butts are being swept under the carpet?

  • Since the ’80s, cigarette butts have been found to make up 30 – 40% of coastal and urban clean-ups.
  • Most people think that cigarette butts are recyclable. 
  • 4.5 trillion butts are littered yearly, and that’s T for trillion.

Most of those butts are made from plastic and never fully break down; they only break into smaller pieces. Cigarette butts are considered toxic waste because they leach toxic chemicals like arsenic and lead into the environment. 

Toxic Butts and a gold fish

You know that soft white material they are made of? It’s called cellulose acetate and can take from 18 months to 10 years to decompose.

Decompose, to me, sounds confusing because I hear decompose and think, oh, excellent, so they do go away. 

Well, yes and no. The plastic breaks down into microplastic, and before it does that, it leaches chemicals and nicotine, which is poisonous, into the ground, affecting our environment. ~ source.

Cigarette Filter Facts

Here are some additional facts about cigarette filters:

  • Cigarette filters were designed to absorb some toxins in cigarette smoke and collect solid particles known as tar. They are also intended to keep tobacco from entering the smoker’s mouth.
  • Most cigarette filters contain a core of cellulose acetate and two layers of wrapping made of paper and/or rayon.
  • Cellulose acetate fibers in a cigarette filter are thinner than sewing thread. A single filter contains more than 12,000 of these fibers.
  • The inner wrapper on a cigarette filter is designed to allow air to flow through it from the core for light cigarettes or block airflow for regular cigarettes.
  • The outer layer of paper is engineered to not stick to a smoker’s lips and attaches the filter to the tobacco tube.
  • Chemicals are added to cigarette paper to control the burn rate, and calcium carbonate is added as a whitener to create appealing ash as the cigarette burns.

“The filter is really a fraud,” said Dr. Thomas Novotny. “It’s simply a marketing tool.”

What dangers do cigarette butts cause to the environment?

Cigarette butts are small and full of toxins. They fill up the animal’s stomachs with a brew of chemicals, leaving them hungry, while their stomachs become full of plastic. Sadly the animal eventually starves to death.

Every sea bird in the world is now affected by plastic pollution. Birds return from the sea to feed their chicks with small amounts of plastic rubbish and cigarette butts.

An estimated 4.5 trillion are littered each year.

According to, cigarette filters also slow plants’ growth and affect root development by 57%. These tests were done on clover and grass. Not only did they discover that used cigarette filters would damage healthy development, but even unused ones, without the chemicals. This indicates that the filter alone is dangerous to the environment.

Are cigarette butts the bigger evil that no one wants to admit to?

In short, yes. Straws only make up 0.02% of ocean waste, which sounds very small now. Still, Australian scientists Denise Hardesty and Chris Wilcox reckon that 437 million to 8.3 billion plastic straws are on the entire world’s coastlines.

Why is littering cigarette butts tolerated?

I think many smokers still don’t know that cigarette butts are not recyclable. They are also a big thread in causing wildfires when carelessly tossed away. 

Smokers say they would discard cigarette butts more carefully if there were more available disposal containers near office buildings, in the city, near bus stops, etc. 

What are some alternatives?

Karma filter tips:

Karma has created a rolling filter tip that contains seeds. They are made from cotton, fruit, and vegetable pulp without chemicals. This makes them tree-friendly and 100% biodegradable. When you toss your cigarette on the ground, it grows into a plant. From edible plants to flowers, it’s all there. Cool idea, I say.

While there was an attempt to solve the issue of non-biodegradable cigarette butts, the problem remains. Even though Green butts came up with a hemp-based no, toxin glued cigarette filter, big tobacco is not using it. 

Some say it only encourages to litter even more. While I think it is just a matter of lobbying. Big tobacco is not taking responsibility for the amount of waste and death they have caused. 


If you can’t kick the bad habit in the butt yet (pun intended), then perhaps swapping over to the market of electric cigarettes is one alternative. I think they look ridiculous, but who am I to judge here?

Carry your own ashtray:

I was still a smoker when I first moved to Byron Bay, Australia. Since it is near the ocean and people are very in tune with nature, they handed out empty camera film containers. Do you remember those little cylinder-shaped black boxes? Do they work great as pocket ashtrays?

Alternatively, you could buy a portable ashtray.

How to recycle cigarette butts?

cigarette butts

The best way is to collect your cigarette butts and send them to TerraCycle. It’s free and easy. All you need to do is collect your old cigarette butts and send them for free to TerraCycle. They will sort them, clean them, and turn them into new useful products.

I went to my neighbor, who smokes a lot, and I gave him a container to collect his butts inside. Two months later, it is full. Now I am going to send it off to Terracycle. Happy neighbor, happy planet, happy Terracycle.

Please share your cigarette story with me or comment below. Do you have more alternative ideas for reducing cigarette waste in the environment?

Photo of author

Hendrik Kaiser

I've studied biology and lived for 3 years on an off-grid permaculture farm. I love kitesurfing and keeping my body healthy and fit. Hence, I care so much about keeping our environment clean and being as zero waste as possible. Being a zerowasteman is a superpower everyone has inside of themselves, and I want to teach you how you can unleash it.

18 thoughts on “Cigarette Butt Pollution | Why are we even talking about straws?”

  1. Good afternoon Hendrik,

    Smoking is bad for your health there is no doubt about that. I smoked my last cigarette 1 week before Christmas of 2015. I have not smoked since that date and am really happy about it.

    Spain is getting its act together, slowly but surely. There are 7 regions in Spain where smoking is forbidden on the beach. Hopefully, all beaches will follow. When you go on holiday one should be informed about these new laws as the fines will be hefty.

    Great you write about these things. People should become aware that our activities have consequences and we should be responsible for taking care of the environment

    Regards, Taetske

    • Great to hear that you too are smoke-free. It’s not easy, but totally possible. Well in Australia the packages are horrible to look at, they don’t show the brand anymore just diseased people and cancerous pictures, on top of that a pack of cigarettes cost more than $20. I guess every little step helps.

  2. This is rather an interesting and unique discuss that I am sure 80% of the world does not really take into consideration before. I do see this cigarette butt all around but I never for once thought about the disadvantages it could cause to us or even give it a thought about the fact that it is not even recyclable. Wow! I think we need to be more conscious driven towards this butt issue before the little things we ignored end up being the reason humans go into extinction. Thanks so much for sharing this and I will surely share to people to enlighten more.

  3. TerraCycle is really doings good job cleaning up those mess. I think it’s a good idea you have given there because not everyone can do away with bad habits so why not get an e- cigarette? Well, it’s the first I’m hearing about this ebutts being a big problem to our environment. It’s awesome that you can open my eyes to this problems. I’m going to be advising my smoking friends to get a container too. Nicely written here.

    • Thanks, Henderson, I am glad it can help and hopefully, you can help some of your smokers friends too. 

  4. I cannot agree less with your summation that most smokers does not even know the rudiments of the butts they put in their mouth, yet, they take it every time. Though I was ignorant about the constituents of this butt too until I read this post. To be honest, plastic is really doing us all a whole lot of bad rather than good. The effect this butts are causing to wildlife and nature is devastating and people should be more oriented towards all these issues. Thanks for making all these researchers and findings. I’d surely get more people sentized about it. Besides, how do you think we can source for an alternative to the cigarette butts

    • Like I wrote the only few alternatives to “normal” cigarette butts were offered by green butts and Karma filters. Otherwise, your best bet would be going to something like e-cigarettes.

  5. I love the title of this post!  Just yesterday at a restaurant, the guest I was with told the waitress he didn’t want to use a straw, as he was saving oceans for his daughter.  But you ask – why talk about straws!?  Anyway, you’re so right.  While I have seen fewer butts on the sidewalks in the past few years, it is still a problem.  The research you put into this article and the facts you discuss are appalling.  I’m not a smoker, but I have never been able to understand people’s interest in it, provided the very negative health consequences.  And then the pollution!  I like how you offer an alternative, TerraCycle.  This was a very informative read for me.  Thank you for doing the research and sharing with us!  Blessings!  

    • I am happy to hear that it was informative to you, even as a non-smoker. While I still say no to straws I noticed that even I didn’t really think about throwing cigarette butts on the ground (When I was still smoking). It all starts with education in my opinion, once people know and understand, they make changes. Thanks

  6. The importance of this post can’t be over emphasized I must say. Generally tossing stuffs on the ground carelessly shouldn’t be accepted anywhere worldwide. On the issue of cigarette butt, its really now a good sight seeing cigarettes all around the place. Some some people go as far as dropping these things at an amusement park where kids can easily pick it up and put it in their mouth. 

    I would love to see effectively recycling bin set up for these things or better still electronic cigar or something, all just to stop the pollution being done by these things 

  7. Quite recently, I went to a beach, but I was quickly disappointed with the amount of cigar butts I found littered all over the place. Then I learnt about how bad it is really disturbing our environment.  I’m very happy that you can give alternatives to taking cigarette by first telling us about the book that helped you and also suggesting e cigarette. Many smokers wouldn’t want that though. I think recycling should be a very good thing to do with the butts. I really did enjoy your post with all the facts in it. Thank your for thoroughly educating me.

  8. I never knew how cigarette butts have contributed into damaging our planet and yes I am one of those ignorant who thought that it decomposes easily. Most of what you shared is new to me especially the Karma Filter tips. I went to see their website to read more information. There are different sizes and flavors available. Do you think they have seeds compatible for the type of soil and weather in other countries? It’s a great idea for smokers to at least have a contribution in saving the planet. I appreciate your concern for the environment and giving alternative and friendly ways to do something about cigarette butts as pollutant. I hope you can influence more with your advocacy.

    • Hi MissusB, and thanks for your comment. I can’t give you an exact answer to your question, but I would say it is still a better option to throwing a butt on the ground, with the chances of it turning into a plant than polluting the soil. I really hope to influence more people as I go about my mission. Thanks for caring 

  9. Wow! I must say, you are so full of life!

    Some years ago I watched my uncle die of lung cancer all because he won’t quit smoking, the image of his last days and suffering was so terrible it has helped keep me on the path against smoking.

    Your article is a real eye-opener, as I have never thought anything of cigarette butts as being harmful, but if they impose so much risk as you’ve stated here, how come the government isn’t doing anything about it, or are they just ignorant of its


    • Hey Queen, I would only take a guess here but I think that the tobacco industry is a billion-dollar industry and quite frankly I think they have more control here than the government. I would love to see the Government take more action apart from setting up more bins to collect butts. Perhaps massive fines should be in place and we need more of environmental police. This could even create jobs for many people, who are bored of their faces.

      Green Butts exist, but why they are not being used instead of the plastic version is probably with so many things just a money issue. Thanks Hendrik


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