When we think about the pollution caused by plastics, some terrifying images come to mind. Turtles with straws on their noses, seals attached to fishing nets and birds that died with their stomachs full of plastic particles, are some of those that come to me immediately.
The point is, you don't have to go far to see plastic pollution. The floor we walk on is littered with plastic particles, which are often transported to the oceans. Most of the time, these pieces of plastic are cigarette butts. Because they are so common on city floors, there are reports of children and dogs who have accidentally swallowed them. And they have even been found in the stomachs of wild animals such as seabirds and turtles. Ingestion may cause vomiting and, in some cases, convulsions.
Cigarette butts may look like a natural, cotton-based material, but all these little fibers are actually made of a plastic called cellulose acetate. This plastic can take up to 13 years to degrade in the environment. But even when it degrades, it does not simply disappear. Cellulose acetate breaks down into thousands of small fibers, giving rise to the so-called microplastics. The microplastics can travel through waterways and be ingested by animals, thus entering our food chain. They are an invisible pollutant on our planet.
And it's not just cellulose acetate that pollutes our Planet. Also the thousands of chemicals trapped in the cigarette butts are thus introduced into the environment. These chemicals are toxic to fish, insects, plants and humans. In a laboratory study, a cigarette butt was placed in a liter of water and it was found that the concentration of dissolved chemicals would be sufficient to kill 50% of freshwater and saltwater fish exposed to this water after just 4 days.
Cigarette butts are not just rubbish, they are plastic pollution. We must not forget that in this war against plastic. Being aware of the environmental impacts of cigarette butts is the first step. The second is to be the change we wish to see in the world.
Joly, François-Xavier, and Mathieu Coulis. “Comparison of Cellulose vs. Plastic Cigarette Filter Decomposition under Distinct Disposal Environments. ” Waste Management, Pergamon, 15 Nov. 2017, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0956053X17308474.
Slaughter, Elli, et al. "Toxicity of Cigarette Butts, and Their Chemical Components, to Marine and Freshwater Fish." Tobacco Control, BMJ Group, May 2011, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3088407/.