Discarded cigarette butts cost UK £40 million a year!

It’s well documented that there is a debate going on regarding disposable vapes even though they are indeed recyclable. So I thought I’d look at it from a different angle and hopefully make a counter-argument.

Smoking causes about 90% (or 9 out of 10) of all lung cancer deaths. More women die from lung cancer each year than from breast cancer. Smoking causes about 80% (or 8 out of 10) of all deaths from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Cigarette smoking increases risk for death from all causes in men and women.

The UK Government’s ambition of a smoke-free country by 2030 does little to solve the smoking-related litter problem facing our communities.

It is universally accepted that smoking has a negative impact on our health, but do we recognise the damage it is doing to our planet?

Despite smoking rates being at their lowest recorded level, cleaning up illegally littered cigarette butts currently costs UK authorities approximately £40 million per year. If the average smoker failed to correctly dispose of their cigarette butts, they would each litter 3,600 cigarette butts per year – a problem that our local authorities are left to deal with, with a lack of enforcement to deter criminal offences.

Cigarette butts are the single most littered item in England, making up 66% of all littered items. Research shows that smokers often believe that cigarette butts are biodegradable. In fact, cigarette butts are made of a type of plastic (plasticised cellulose acetate), and are not biodegradable. A cigarette butt can take 14 years to break apart, its toxins seeping into the earth. The cigarette butt breaks apart into microplastics which stay in the environment for an unknown period of time.

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Cigarette butts cause devastating environmental damage. Each butt, if left, can take 14 years to break apart, seeping toxic chemicals including arsenic, lead, formaldehyde and nicotine into the earth and water courses and leaving behind microplastics that persist for an unknown period of time. Chemicals leached harm plants, animals, fish and affect whole ecosystems.

Many people believe that cigarette butts down drains are filtered out however, these butts end up in waterways and can cause harm to marine life. One cigarette butt can contaminate 100 litres of water.

In the UK, 120 tonnes of cigarette related litter are discarded on our streets every day · Cigarettes account for over 40 per cent of street litter.

Cigarette butts are the single greatest source of ocean trash. Cigarette butts have long been the single most collected item on the world’s beaches, with a total of more than 60 million collected over 32 years.

It’s no wonder that cigarette butts have drawn attention. The vast majority of the 5.6 trillion cigarettes manufactured worldwide each year come with filters made of cellulose acetate, a form of plastic that can take a decade or more to decompose. As many as two-thirds of those filters are dumped irresponsibly each year, according to Novotny, who founded the Cigarette Butt Pollution Project.

The Ocean Conservancy has sponsored a beach clean-up every year since 1986. For 32 consecutive years, cigarette butts have been the single most collected item on the world’s beaches, with a total of more than 60 million collected over that time. That amounts to about one-third of all collected items and more than plastic wrappers, containers, bottle caps, eating utensils and bottles, combined.


People sometimes dump that trash directly on to beaches but, more often, it washes into the oceans from countless storm drains, streams and rivers around the world. The waste often disintegrates into microplastics easily consumed by wildlife. Researchers have found the detritus in some 70 percent of seabirds and 30 percent of sea turtles.

Those discarded filters usually contain synthetic fibres and hundreds of chemicals used to treat tobacco, said Novotny, who is pursuing further research into what kinds of cigarette waste leech into the soil, streams, rivers and oceans.

Even if they’re dropped on the land, many cigarette butts find their way into the planet’s oceans. Not only do cigarette butts present a choking hazard, they leach toxic chemicals into the water and pose a risk to many forms of marine life.

Cigarette butts are a more harmful source of pollution than plastic bags, according to a study published by NBC News in 2018. Some frightening figures emerge. For example, for 32 consecutive years, cigarette butts have been the most collected object on the world’s beaches, with a total of more than 60 million collected over those 32 years. This represents about a third of all collected objects – plastic packaging, containers, bottle caps, kitchen utensils and bottles, combined.

Cigarette butts a major source of pollution: some figures

In France, every year, 30 to 40 million cigarette butts are thrown on the ground, 40% of which end up in the wild, these butts thrown ashore end up in rivers and then in the oceans. Knowing that a single cigarette butt can pollute up to 500 litres of water, the repercussions of this type of waste on a global scale on water resources are catastrophic.


Cigarette butts account for 40% of the waste recovered in cities and on beaches during international clean-up campaigns. It is the most common garbage collected from the world’s beaches.

According to NBC news, the waste often disintegrates into microplastics that are easily consumed by wildlife. Researchers have found litter in about 70 percent of seabirds and 30 percent of sea turtles.


Spain is a country where people smoke a lot, it is estimated that about 90 million cigars are smoked every day. Because of this bad habit, at the end of the year some 32.8 billion cigarette butts are generated in the environment. These filters can take up to 10 years to degrade.

It is estimated that 15% of these end up on the beaches, with their negative consequences: pollution and bad image. On a global scale, and taking into account all the places where we can find this waste, the figure rises to almost 5 billion.

It is in cigarette butts where most of the health-damaging agents accumulate. These harmful agents then end up in the sea or other water sources, contaminating them. It is estimated that butts are the second most polluting element on beaches.

So yes disposable vapes / e-cigarettes are an issue but an issue that could be resolved and are predominantly used by people trying to quit the deadly habit of smoking.