Smokers “blind” to devastating impact of butts on the environment – Hubbub

Hubbub cigarette campaign

New research from environmental charity Hubbub reveals just over 1 in 4 smokers (28%) are aware that cigarette butts are made from plastic.

Of the 1,500 smokers surveyed by Censuswide, over a third (36%) mistakenly think cigarette butts contain cotton wool when in fact the white fluffy material is made from a type of plastic (cellulose acetate) which once smoked, can release “thousands of chemicals”.

As well as plastic, toxic compounds in cigarette butts can include formaldehyde, nicotine, arsenic, lead, copper, chromium, cadmium, and a variety of polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

Hubbub says that cigarette butts are the most littered item in the world and cause serious damage to the environment by leaching out toxic chemicals over a number of years but they don’t get the same attention as other plastic litter which is arguably less harmful.

The survey showed over a third of smokers (34%) believe it takes less than a year for a cigarette butt to decompose but, Hubbub says, the truth is butts don’t ever decompose and can take up to 10 years to start breaking down into microplastics.

Cigarette litter has become invisible and we need it to be seen.

Cleaning up littered cigarette butts currently costs UK local authorities around £40 million per year. Despite the fact that throwing a cigarette on the ground is against the law, the survey suggested that 1 in 3 smokers (32%) don’t realise it’s illegal to litter cigarettes.

More than a quarter (28%) admit to dropping their cigarette butts down the drain – a direct route to waterways and oceans.

Dr Dannielle Green, Associate Professor at Anglia Ruskin University, who led the first study to show the damage that cigarette butts can cause to plants in 2019, said: “Cigarette butts are single-use plastics and are hazardous waste.

“They release microplastics and leach out toxic chemicals that can be lethal to marine and freshwater plants and animals. Even if they don’t cause death, cigarette butts can reduce the ability of certain aquatic organisms to reproduce or feed.

Hubbub campaign
One of Hubbub’s “eye-catching” ballot bins outside Stratfor Station.

As part of a campaign to reduce cigarette litter, Hubbub has today (13 October) launched a campaign in the streets surrounding Stratford Station. Hubbub says they have installed “eye-catching” interventions to raise awareness of their plastic content and help cigarette litter be “seen”.

This included giant billboards, ballot bins, newspaper stands and “talking butts” to catch the attention of passers-by.

In addition to the campaign, Hubbub is calling on councils and industry to do more to raise awareness about what cigarette butts and filters are made from and help encourage smokers to dispose of their butts responsibly.

55% of smokers surveyed say there are not enough cigarette bins at bus stops, 51% said the same for taxi ranks and 51% said the same for outside supermarkets.

Many smokers do want to do the right thing but we need more bins in the right places.

Heather Poore, co-founder of Hubbub said: “We were encouraged to see that 57% of smokers when told cigarettes contained plastic said they’d be more likely to look for an ashtray nearby and 50% say they are more likely to keep hold of their cigarette butts for longer.

“This suggests many smokers do want to do the right thing but we need more bins in the right places and a much higher level of awareness about them containing plastic – something which cigarette manufacturers, councils and landowners can help with. Cigarette litter has become invisible and we need it to be seen.”

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