Our planet is in trouble. Human beings are the problem, but we are also the solution.
But where do we begin? How about with the most common form of litter on the planet – cigarette butts?
Trillions are dropped every single year in our cities, towns, villages and countryside. Wherever you find people you will find cigarette butts. Lots of them.
They are one of the biggest littering problems facing the planet today. That’s why Rubbish Walks has chosen cigarette litter as one of our top priorities.
‘We all have a responsibility’
It’s not about blame. It’s about responsibility and accountability.
Butt why should you care?
BECAUSE CIGARETTE BUTTS ARE LITTER.
Cigarette butts are the most common form of litter on the planet. You are never more than a few paces away from a handful of discarded butts. Trillions are dropped every single year in our cities, towns, villages and countryside. Wherever you find people you will find cigarette butts. Lots of them.
Broken Window Theory suggests that if an area is seen to be covered in litter then this will highly likely lead to more littering. This is especially true for cigarette butts. If smokers see an area is covered in discarded cigarette butts – outside entrances to buildings, by seating areas, at pedestrian crossings, car parks etc. – then they are more likely to throw their cigarette butts on the ground too. This issue increases when there is no clear bin provided and ineffective signage is used.
If there is also seen to be a lack of enforcement in an area (dropping cigarette butts is a littering offence and can lead to fines of £80 or more) then smokers feel there will be no consequences for dropping their cigarette butts. They’ll get away with it.
We need to find a way to nudge smokers to ‘do the right thing’.
BECAUSE CIGARETTE BUTTS ARE PLASTIC POLLUTION.
Cigarette filters are made from a form of plastic called cellulose acetate. It is suggested that there are in excess of 4 trillion cigarette butts dropped in the environment every single year. This is a hard figure to verify but it’s safe to say that the figure is in the trillions.
That’s a staggering amount and a difficult number to visualise. Consider this… that’s way more stars than there are in our galaxy and if you were to lay every cigarette butt dropped in a year end to end they would stretch to the moon and back more than 100 times!
Now consider that a cigarette butt can take 10 years or more to break down. That means that there are likely 30+ trillion cigarette butts in the environment right this second. All potentially breaking up into smaller and smaller pieces.
Polluting our rivers and oceans. Killing wildlife and vegetation. Entering the food chain and therefore impacting the health of smokers and non smokers alike.
BECAUSE CIGARETTE BUTTS ARE TOXIC.
Cigarette butts are not only made of plastic, they are also filled with toxic chemicals. Over 6,000 of them. 50+ have been proven to be carcinogenic to humans and many more are deadly to wildlife.
It’s suggested that the chemicals found in just one cigarette butt can leach out and contaminate approximately 7.5 liters of water within one hour. This contaminated water is lethal to aquatic life.
Why do smokers drop their butts?
It’s estimated that smokers around the world buy roughly 6.5 trillion cigarettes each year. After smoking the smoker is left with the cigarette filter (butt). Only an estimated third of these are disposed of in a bin. The remaining two thirds of cigarette butts (that’s billions every single day) are dropped on the ground or flicked out of a window. But why? What reasons do smokers give for not disposing of their cigarette waste properly?
Here are some of the most common answers…
NOT AWARE IT'S LITTERING
When you mention litter most people think of plastic bottles, cans, fast food wrappers etc. but very few, particularly smokers, think of cigarette butts as litter.
This is most likely due to the cigarette butt’s small size but it is just as much litter as is a MacDonald’s wrapper. In many ways it’s more of an issue as there are many more of them and they also contain a multitude of toxic chemicals.
Every cigarette dropped is a littering offence and could lead to a typical fine of £80 or more.
NOT AWARE CIGARETTE BUTTS ARE MADE OF PLASTIC
Many smokers are well aware of the global threat of single-use plastics and are actively changing their habits to reduce the amount of plastic they buy or use in their everyday lives.
Unfortunately the vast majority are not aware that the filter in their cigarettes is made of a form of plastic called cellulose acetate.
Dropped on the ground, these cigarette butts can pollute the environment for 10 years or more as they break up. They will never truly disappear.
NOT ENOUGH BINS / NO BINS / BIN NOT CLOSE ENOUGH
This reason comes up time and time again and is a clear symptom of our culture of convenience. Humans inevitably seek the easiest option. The path of least resistance.
When confronted about flicking cigarette butts on the ground I often hear smokers say ‘Well where am I supposed to put it? There are no bins around’.
THE SMELL / CLEANLINESS
Closely linked to ‘not enough bins’ is the overpowering smell of cigarette butts and wanting to feel clean.
Most smokers don’t want to hang on to their cigarette butts because they acknowledge that they are smelly and quite dirty.
Some smokers already feel a little self conscious about smelling of cigarettes and will try to disguise the odour with aftershave, perfume and/or breath mints.
Holding on to their cigarette butts without being able to mask the smell or contain the mess is not an option for most.
FORCE OF HABIT
Force of habit is a major factor for most smokers. That final flick of the cigarette butt at the end feels an integral part of the pleasure of smoking.
It acts almost like a full stop. Putting a line under that break or that part of the journey or dealing with that latest piece of stress.
Let’s face it, most of us have made bad decisions when we are drunk.
Disposing of your cigarette butt properly when you’re out enjoying a few drinks, having something to eat, when deep in conversation or having a dance, is probably the last thing to enter your head.
DON'T CARE / ANTI-AUTHORITARIAN
There are some people who, regardless of what information or evidence you provide or how nicely you ask, just don’t care. They don’t care about others, the environment or even themselves in some cases.
They may also have a bit of a rebel streak inside , one that gives them a propensity for challenging authority even if it is just by flicking their cigarette butts on the ground.
SOCIAL / CULTURAL NORMS
Attitudes towards littering in general varies from country to country and this is particularly true for cigarette butts.
If your local environment – the street where you live, the roads you drive along, the town centre you visit – is covered in litter including cigarette butts then it appears socially acceptable to do the same thing.
Litter breeds litter.
Observing others litter as you grow up (parents, siblings), watching friends do it when you are at school or just hanging out reinforces the habit.
MAKE A JOB FOR SOMEONE ELSE
This has got to be one of the oddest reasons given that I’ve heard but I hear it regularly.
I also hear “It’s the council’s job. I pay may taxes”, or “It gives you litter pickers something to do”.
What’s the solution? The 4 ‘E’s
Education at all age levels and consistently shared over a sustained period is key to successfully changing smokers behaviour.
Education delivered in targeted ways and in various formats, carefully crafted to resonate with each demographic of smoker.
Easy access to disposal is essential to tackling the issue of litter, particularly cigarette butts.
More, clearly defined bins specifically designed for cigarette waste are needed at transition points (e.g. entrances to stores, pubs, restaurants, bus stops etc.) and other areas of high footfall. Emptied at the right time.
Personal ashtrays can also play an important role.
EXTENDED PRODUCER RESPONSIBILITY
In an ideal world the tobacco industry will step up, share the responsibility for the mess left by their products and help clean it up. If they won’t do it voluntarily then government needs to hold them accountable by introducing appropriate legislation.
Extended Producer Responsibility or EPR is the concept of brand owners and manufacturers taking environmental responsibility for their products and associated packaging when it becomes waste.
This can be done in a number of ways including take back programmes, funding clean up and disposal schemes, developing/funding recycling and reuse programmes.
In an ideal world the tobacco industry will step up, share the responsibility for the mess left by their products and help clean it up
It is impossible to truly tackle littering without proper enforcement of the law.
Enforcement should always be considered as the final option.
If every effort has been made to provide easy access for disposal and awareness initiatives about what is acceptable both socially and legally are continually present then there is no excuse for littering.
There must be seen to be consequences for actions that break the law.
What are we doing about it?
Cigarette litter is one of our top priorities. We’re working on tackling the issue in a number of ways but there are two main initiatives we’ve introduced – #1millionButts and Blitz The Butt Week.
Jason is on a mission to collect one million cigarette butts to help highlight the issue of cigarette butt litter. Starting in late 2018 Jason continues to collect cigarette butts (and other cigarette related litter) daily.
Armed with his gloves, litter picker and bucket he explores streets, beaches, river banks and woodlands gathering an invaluable insight and data into cigarette butt hot spots.
This information is collated and used to inform, educate and inspire individuals, schools, businesses, community groups and government to take action by modifying their behaviour, introducing new campaigns or implementing new/enforcing current legislation.
Jason uses social media to share photos and videos of his activities worldwide and continues to appear regularly in publications and on TV around the world sharing his insights and message.
CIGARETTE BUTTS COLLECTED
BLITZ THE BUTT WEEK
2019 saw the launch of the very first National Blitz The Butt Day and we were blown away by the response and support we received!
Over 200 individuals and groups took part across the UK collecting over 120,000 cugarette butts on the day. We even had individuals and goups joining in from around the world including the USA, Australia and Germany to name but a few.
In 2020 we took it to a whole new level! Blitz The Butt Day evolved into Blitz The Butt Week and we also teamed up with two awesome organisations – the World Clean Up Day team to rally millions of volunteers around the world and Filtracycle, a new organisation developing a cost effective and scalable way to RECYCLE cigarette butts.
This world-changing idea began in the small northern European country of Estonia, in 2008. 50,000 people united to clean up the entire country in just five hours.
On that day, a global bottom-up civic movement was born and spread like wildfire around the globe. This captured the imaginations of people worldwide, who were inspired to follow suit with the same ambitious ‘one country, one-day’ formula.
In 2019 over 20 million volunteers in 180 countries around the world joined together on a single day to pick up tonnes of trash. That’s amazing!
2020 saw World Clean Up Day’s main focus as cigarette butt litter so it made perfect sense to team up and spread the message ‘Our world is not an ashtray. Do the right thing and dispose of your cigarette butts properly’.