Why Cigarette Butts Are a Big Threat To Marine Life

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Why Cigarette Butts Are a Big Threat To Marine Life

Ocean Butts

It’s no secret that each year, and increasing amount of litter and debris can be found in the sand, or in the water. Of that debris, cigarette butts seem to be the most common, and one of the most harmful to aquatic life. Cigarette butts are also littered out the windows of cars, parking lots, on sidewalks, pretty much everywhere. These end up in our gutters, carried by traffic, wind, and water, and eventually end up in our waterways. The toxins in the butts and filters leak out, threatening water quality as well as marine life. Not to mention animals mistaking these for food, or even curious children.  Over 4.5 TRILLION cigarettes are littered worldwide each year – they are the most littered item in the world.

Cigarette butts may seem small, however, with several trillion butt littered each year – the toxic chemicals add up quickly. Cigarette butts are composed of cellulose acetate (a form of plastic) and take an estimated 2 -25 years to decompose. They also contain over 165 chemicals.

A study in San Diego was performed and a single butt was introduced to a liter of water and resulted in high toxicity levels, and the death of 50% of the fish in the water – this is just from ONE butt. This suggests one smoked cigarette butt in a single liter of water is sufficient to kill both marine and freshwater fish

Some of the chemicals in cigarettes:

  • Benzo[a]pyrene: found in coal tar and cigarette smoke and it is one of the most potent cancer causing chemical in the world.

  • Arsenic: deadly poison that causes diarrhea, cramps, anemia, paralysis and malignant skin tumors. It is used in pesticides.

  • Acetone: It's one of the active ingredients in nail polish remover.

  • Lead: Lead poisoning stunts growth, causes vomiting, and causes brain damage.

  • Formaldehyde: causes cancer, can damage lungs, skin, and digestive systems. Embalmers use it to preserve dead bodies.

  • Toluene: highly toxic, commonly use as an ingredient in paint thinner.

  • Butane: highly flammable butane is one of the key components in gasoline.

  • Cadmium: cause damage to the liver, kidneys and brain, and stays in the body for years.

  • Ammonia: causes individuals to absorb more nicotine, keeping them hooked on smoking.

  • Benzene: found in pesticides and gasoline.

In 2014, ICC volunteers collected some 2 million cigarette butts – a huge amount, but just the tip of the ice berg. Approximately 4.5 trillion of the 6 trillion cigarettes consumed annually are littered across the globe. 

It’s important to realize that plastics are overwhelmingly being ingested by marine life. Plastic pieces are being found in the stomachs of birds, fish, whales and other marine creatures because they are being mistaken for food. People who eat an average amount of seafood are estimated to ingest up to 11,000 tiny pieces of plastic per year according to a study from the University of Ghent.  

 

Ways YOU Can Help Eliminate the Butts:

  • Get educated & spread the word

  • Encourage smokers to dispose of their butts properly, responsibly and safely

  • Volunteer and pick up when visiting a beach, walking your dog, or out and about

  • Set an example and not litter - encourage the same for your peers

 

 

 

 Sources Used:

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  • Gabriella De Luca
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