The Cigarette Butts You Throw Away Are Literally As Harmful To The Ocean As Plastic Bags And Straws

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By Mayukh Saha,

One of the rare pluses about social media is that it really brought up awareness regarding so many problems around us. Among the many things it has brought people’s attention to, is pollution.

We millennials are the first generation who actually have to worry about bringing kids into this world or not; not to mention, we might actually see all life on Earth end, thanks to us.

The last time one single species affected the Earth this much was billions of years ago, when the first photosynthetic microbes breathed the oxygen we breathe in, out. And we can safely say that our contribution has not been that positive.

Thanks to our cheap consumerism, there is literally an eighth continent floating in the ocean: a mass of junk dumped into the ocean, mostly plastic and other non-biodegradable objects that roam the ocean, suffocating and poisoning living things.

And these acts of choking have found their way to social media as videos of sea turtles with straws stuck in their nostrils and other animals dead from the poison become viral every day.

Thanks to many posts, including these viral videos, awareness about plastic straws has risen considerably. What is surprising is that, despite all this brouhaha, plastic straws have only formed 0.02% of ocean waste.

The main perp in this case is something that is far more commonplace and far more sinister, because it has avoided being regulated for so long thanks to its sheer commonality: “cigarette butts”.

To quote our source:

“The filters of the 5.6 trillion cigarettes (two-thirds of which are dumped irresponsibly) made around the world each year are composed of cellulose acetate, which can take more than a decade to decompose. Since 1986 cigarette butts have been the most collected item of ocean beaches, with about 60 million found in 32 years.”

During the mid 1900s cigarette filters were first invented in order to decrease the health risks of cigarettes but now they have turned into a major disaster. A study conducted by Professor Novotny in the year 2011 discovered that any kind of attempt to stop cigarette consumers to stop them from flicking their cigarette ends was not successful as several permanent ashtrays and ant-litter events remained unsuccessful.

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There has been an online campaign too, called the Cigarette Butt Pollution Project.

Cigarettes and other tobacco products have always been a legislator’s nightmare. Marlboro for example has been engaged in one of the longest and most complex trials in Indonesia, where sales teams have targeted poor and under-age children as a consumer base.

In the US, anti-filter legislations have come to little effect and continue to remain as spectres.

But it would be wrong to say that things haven’t been begun at all. Throughout the world significant steps have been taken in the forward direction. For example, in the United States environmentalists have tried to pass forward legislation concerning banning the filters or even increasing the costs of cigarette packs so that clean-up drives can be funded. On the other side of the Pacific, in France, a theme park had decide to train the rooks in its care to clean litter and cigarette butt garbage by picking it up.

So while the war on plastic straws has been significantly and very important, the war on pollution and the war to reclaim our oceans for life is anything but over.

Also, quit smoking! For the planet as a whole, if not for your own health.

Image credit: 123RF

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