We're talking about cigarette butts — the shriveled little bits of flicked cigs that are creating a not-so-little problem for our environment. "World No Tobacco" day, which was on May 31, prompted us to examine smoking's environmental impact.
What's that? You just saw a cigarette butt sail from a car window? Lodged in a sidewalk crack? Chances are you're not alone; cigarette butts are far and away the most littered item in the world, with roughly 4.5 trillion being tossed each year. The lobbying group American for Nonsmokers' Rights (ANR) reported that 1.69 billion pounds of butts ended up as toxic waste last year. That's like the weight of 177,895 endangered African elephants, or 555,555 Toyota Prius automobiles, or. . . well, you get the idea. That's a lot of junk in our collective trunk.
But cigarette butts aren't just a punch line for bad puns — they present a serious hazard to our natural world.
The butt itself is comprised of two parts: A plastic filter and the remnants of the used tobacco. While the leftover tobacco is by definition biodegradable, the filters are made from a plastic called cellulose acetate, a compound that eventually breaks down but never disappears. Ever. Combine that with the roughly 4,000 chemicals found in cigarettes, and you've got the recipe for a pretty awful eco-aftertaste.