Cigarette butts are polluting the ocean more than plastic straws — so why not ban these?



ABOVE: Cigarette butts proving to be an environmental hazard.

Plastic straws are getting all the attention lately, with cities like Vancouver and Seattle banning the use of them. Even major corporations like Starbucks and McDonald’s have jumped on the environmental bandwagon and implemented their own plastic straw ban, citing ocean pollution.

But there is a worse polluter floating in the ocean, damaging habitats, poisoning fish and costing tax dollars for cleanup and disposal, according to environmental experts.

On Monday, a report by NBC News named cigarette butts as the single greatest source of ocean pollution — surpassing plastic straws.

The filters in cigarettes are made of tiny plastic particles that take decades or more to decompose. And they serve no use. According to a World Health Organization (WHO) report, cigarette filters were created in the 1950s by the tobacco industry in an effort to make smoking a “healthier” alternative to unfiltered cigarettes.

“As we now know, claims that filtered cigarettes were ‘healthier’ were fraudulent,” the WHO said in its report.

And while the banning of plastic straws is gaining momentum, some experts believe the focus should be on cigarette filters instead.

‘The most littered item on earth’

A campaign, called the Cigarette Butt Pollution Project, hopes to “eradicate” cigarette butts and tobacco waste from the environment.

According to the project, out of the 5.6 trillion cigarettes that are made with these filters each year, almost two-thirds are dumped irresponsibly. Many of the filters contain harsh chemicals like nicotine, arsenic and heavy metals.

“Tossing a cigarette butt on the ground has since become one of the most accepted forms of littering globally and borders on a social norm for many smokers,” the WHO said in its report, adding that around 680 million kilograms of tobacco waste litters the world each year.


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