Cigarette Butts Waste: Small, Dangerous, and Omnipresent

Why Are Cigarette Butts Dangerous? 

Cigarette butts contain a plastic filter and the remnants of a smoked cigarette. The white cigarette filters that look like white cotton are called cellulose acetate.

By itself, cellulose acetate is difficult to degrade in the environment. Depending on the place where the cigarette butt is discarded, they take around 18 months to 10 years to be decomposed.

A cigarette butt found on a beach. Photo credit Brian Yurasits/Unsplash

Moreover, discarded cigarette butts are full of toxins, which can pollute the ground and waterways, further damaging the environment and all living organisms that came into contact with it. Most filters are discarded with bits of tobacco still attached to them, of which contain nicotine.

To make matters worse, smokers admit that they litter cigarette butts. A survey by Keep America Beautiful (KAB) revealed that 77% of respondents did not think of cigarette butts as litter. They also probably think that these butts are degradable, hence the heavy littering.

Facts About Cigarette Butts Waste

An estimated 5.6 trillion cigarettes are smoked each year, and two-thirds of them are improperly disposed of. In another word, around 4.5 trillion butts enter the environment annually.

In fact, since the 1980s, cigarette butts accounted for 30% to 40% of all the litter that was found in coastal and urban clean-ups.

Cigarette butts are often found in coastal areas. Photo credit Brian Yurasits/Unsplash

In Australia, an estimated 8 million litters of cigarette butts ended up as marine debris. In Victoria, for example, around 350,000 butts are washed into Port Philip Bay annually.

In seawater, cigarette butts will need at least 5 years to break down. Similar to plastic, birds and aquatic animals often mistake cigarette butts for food, which caused them to digest these butts that might lead to serious problems and even death.

Impacts of cigarette butts to marine animals. Source:

Not to mention the toxic chemicals that are contained in the discarded butts, namely lead and cadmium. Once they enter the water, they can contaminate the aquatic environment and threaten marine life.

Impacts of cigarette butts to marine animals. Source:

Last but not least, the cost of cleaning cigarette butts waste is expensive. A San Fransisco audit study reported that the cost of cleaning up cigarette butts is estimated to be more than 7 million dollars annually. What’s more, taxpayers and local authorities are the ones who bear the cost.

What Can be Done

Addressing the problem of cigarette butts waste means addressing the root of the problem, one of which is how smokers kept littering their cigarette butts.

One effective and simple way is to enforce fines for disposing of cigarette butts inappropriately, like how it is applied in Singapore. In addition, education for smokers and the general public regarding the danger of cigarette butts also need to be done in order to increase their awareness. This can be done in the form of an interactive campaign or through public advertisement.

A creative example of a waste bin for disposing of cigarette butts. Source:

Another effective way is to provide a special waste bin for cigarette butts in both formal and informal smoking areas such as outside of stores, building, bus stops, and parking lot.

Another thing that you can do is to check on your local waste recycling company on whether they accept cigarette butts waste or not. If you live in Jakarta and its surrounding cities (Tangerang, Bekasi, Bogor, Depok), you can send your cigarette butts waste to Waste4Change via the Send Your Waste Program.

An example of how you can pack the cigarette butts. Photo credit: Jasmin Sessler/Unsplash

Make sure that the cigarette butts are dry and packed neatly. Also, do not mix it with other types of waste. You can send your discarded cigarette butts up until January 2021.

All in all, the best way to reduce the problem of cigarette butts is to stop smoking altogether. However, if you cannot quit smoking, at least you can be responsible for the waste that you produce.


Cigarette Butts Pollution Project: Just the Facts 2013

1 2