Putting Cigarette Butts Behind Us

Did you know that cigarette butts are actually made out of plastic?

Even though cigarette butts are very small in size, they pose a big threat to waterways in New York and New Jersey. Butts discarded on busy sidewalks and roadways are washed into storm drains when it rains, often making their way directly into waterways.  The “butt” of a cigarette includes a “filter” made out of a plastic material called cellulose acetate, which does not biodegrade over time. They are the most common piece of litter found at beach cleanups, and 5 Gyres estimates that more than 1.69 billion pounds of butts are thrown away each year. Leachate from cigarette butts was found to be acutely toxic to some aquatic organisms, primarily due to nicotine and ethylphenol as well as small amounts of toxic heavy metals.

Additionally, social norms for cigarette butt disposal are very different than other kinds of materials. In fact, most cigarette butts are discarded directly into the environment, instead of simply entering the waste stream via household trash or public receptacles.

What We’re Doing

Our efforts will focus on changing current behaviors and practices regarding cigarette disposal, as well as looking into how our members can best support public health initiatives and policies that address smoking and disposal of tobacco products.

More Information

Some municipalities, including New York City, have banned smoking on beaches and public parks in an effort to reduce cigarette butt pollution.  Efforts to regulate cigarette butts as a form of hazardous waste and to require mandatory biodegradable filters have been proposed by some public health institutions.