The Butt of the Joke

Bolton Green Umbrella | Thursday 24 October 2019 | 0 Comments

If we said "litter", cigarette butts might not be the first thing you think of. They seem relatively harmless compared to some other forms of litter, like single-use plastics and other non-recyclable materials... but are they really? And why should Bolton care?

Recent surveys conducted by Keep Britain Tidy and organisations like the public health charity ASH (Action on Smoking and Health) found that cigarette butts are actually the most abundant form of plastic litter, both here in the UK and globally.

Cigarette filters contain microplastics that can take up to 12 years to fully decompose, adding to the already copious amount of plastic waste that goes out into the environment every day, including our oceans. Despite a large number of smokers recently making the switch from traditional cigarettes to vaping, cigarette butts are still littering our beaches, clogging up our drains and mysteriously accumulating in our communal plant pots and flower beds. But aside from being unpleasant to look at and difficult to get rid of, cigarette butts can also have a detrimental effect on local wildlife and the surrounding environment. 

According to Cancer Research UK, cigarettes produce over 7,000 different chemicals, many of which are toxic and are captured within the filter as they are smoked. Carelessly discarded butts are easily blown about in a breeze and can end up almost anywhere, including open grassland, forests and rivers.

The captured chemicals are gradually released from the butt over time, leaching into the surrounding environment and contaminating water and soils. If these poisons are absorbed by plants or ingested by fish, they can cause severe health problems or even death.
They can even impact animals further up the food chain that unknowingly eat contaminated plants or fish. As well as toxic damage, cigarette butts that are accidently eaten or mistaken for food can cause blockages in an animal’s digestive system, as some of the materials inside the cigarette filter are indigestible.

Either way, cigarette butts are bad news for our native flora and fauna.

The good news is that there are now a growing number of new initiatives that aim to reduce the amount of cigarette butts left to litter streets and damage the environment. These include:

-   Improving amenities; councils and local businesses nationwide are being encouraged to install more litter bins/outdoor ashtrays fitted with stubbing plates that allow smokers to safely dispose of their cigarettes right away. Since last year, over 30 local councils across the UK have started trialling 'Ballot Bins' in a new and creative bid to reduce cigarette waste.

-   Changing legislation; littering of any kind (including cigarette butts) is now punishable by a hefty fine across the UK. Our own local Manchester City Council have been enforcing this with much more vigour since last year.

-   Anti-litter campaigns; initiatives such as ‘Tin It and Bin It’ and Charity Cigarette Butt Bins (both run by Suffolk-based organisation Rubbish Walks) are being adopted to incentivise smokers to ‘do the right thing’ and dispose of their butts responsibly.

-   Raising public awareness; governments and environmental organisations like Zero Waste Scotland are providing clear and accessible information to the public about the damage smoking can do to the environment, wildlife, and of course, human health.

Of course, change takes time and has to be implemented by everyone. Unfortunately, as many of our volunteers known first hand, a small minority of people are still reluctant to responsibly dispose of their litter, cigarette butts included.

But this is why local volunteer groups like yours are so important; whether you protect wildlife, regularly litter-pick an area or run events to encourage other people to get involved, everything you do has a positive impact on Bolton and takes us one step closer to becoming a cleaner, greener borough.

If you know a smoker, please encourage them to dispose of their butts safely and consider sharing this article with them.

A special acknowledgement goes out to one of our fantastic volunteers, Pauline Owen, for inspiring this article with her recent posts regarding cigarette butts and the 'Tin It and Bin It' campaign. Thank you ever so much for all the information you shared with us, Pauline!

Photo credit: Zero Waste Scotland

KMF 2019

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