Every morning on the way to work I walk the smokers’ gauntlet – or perhaps more correctly, a gauntlet of smokers. I don’t have anything against smokers, but I do take issue with the hundreds of cigarette butts that litter the ground.
Around 7 billion cigarette butts are littered each year, making them the most littered item in Australia. They’re flicked on the floor with seemingly little regard as to the environmental impact. Cigarette butts contain harmful chemicals such as cadmium, arsenic, and lead. These toxic little stubs might seem like nothing more than a bit of rubbish on the ground, but they’re finding their way into and tainting our waterways. Not only that, cigarette butts contain plastic that takes years to break down. They linger in our environment, polluting the earth, water, and air, and poison animals who mistake them for food.
We joined the Northern Beaches Clean Up Crew last Sunday at Dee Why Beach, and cigarette butts were collected by the hundreds with a total of 631 picked up in the space of just an hour. Once you start looking for them you realise they’re everywhere.
It appears to me that a lot of people don’t equate dropping a cigarette stub on the floor with littering. Of course I don’t know this for sure, but it seems like your average smoker wouldn’t just toss a coffee cup on the pavement or drop a crisp packet on the ground. There’s something about the cigarette butt that people don’t associate with littering. Walking through the city I constantly see people dropping cigarettes on the floor and wandering off with little thought given to the smouldering stub left behind. It’s rare that I see someone discard a plastic bottle or some other item that would definitely be considered littering.
But equally, my reaction would be different. If I see someone dropping a cigarette butt I think it’s disgusting but I accept it as the norm. If I see someone dropping a food wrapper I’m far more outraged. It seems to be the accepted thing that cigarettes are just dropped when they’re finished. People grind them into the ground and think little of it. But littering is illegal and fines apply.
Attitudes to littering need to change. Cigarette butts might seem small and insignificant but 7 billion a year is neither a small nor insignificant number, and these little stubs are having a big impact on our environment. Smokers need to take more responsibility for the disposal of their cigarettes, and non smokers need to stop turning a blind eye.
There’s currently a petition going around calling for a ban on cigarette filters. This would push responsibility back onto the tobacco companies to design filterless products. Cigarettes are responsible for disease, they’re tested on animals, and now they’re polluting our environment. We need to recognise that it’s simply not acceptable for cigarette butts to be dropped on the floor as though as harmless as an apple core. If we can’t ban the butt then we need to bin the butt instead.