One of the most common forms of litter is cigarette butts. Once these butts enter waterways, they become toxic to fish. According to a new study by San Diego State University (SDSU), filter-tipped cigarette butts are deadly to marine and freshwater fish. In fact, researchers would like to have the butts classified as hazardous waste.
Cigarette butts are not biodegradable. The filters are made up of 12,000 plastic-like cellulose acetate fibers that trap nicotine and tar. There’s enough nicotine trapped in 200 used cigarette filters to kill a human! An estimated 1.69 billion pounds of butts are littered each year worldwide, so you can imagine the negative effects these butts have on aquatic life when they wash into streams and oceans. SDSU Public Health Professor Tom Novotny explains, “It is toxic at rather low concentrations. Even one butt in a liter of water can kill the fish in a period of 96 hours.”
Lead researcher Richard Gersberg studied three types of cigarettes: smoked filtered cigarettes without tobacco, smoked filtered cigarettes with tobacco, and clean un-smoked filtered cigarettes. All three types killed half of the fish in low concentration, although researchers at SDSU found the filter and its remnants are the most toxic part of a cigarette for fish.
Professor Novotny continues: “When they unconsciously throw their butts onto the ground, it’s not just litter, it’s a toxic hazardous waste product, and that’s what we’re trying to say. So that may be regulated at the local or state level. And we hope people will be more conscious about what they do with these cigarette butts.”
If you are a cigarette smoker or know someone that is, please dispose of your butts appropriately.