Cigarette butts also contribute to microplastic menace: study

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A comprehensive reportage of the National Geographic has raised the question if cigarette butts should be banned, following findings that these filters are polluting the environment with toxins after it breaks down into microplastic and other harmful chemicals such as nicotine and heavy metals when improperly disposed into the environment.

Many clean-up initiatives in urban communities and waterways across the world are reporting that these cigarette ends, which are made of a type of plastic called cellulose acetate, are among the most common thrash picked up by cleaners and volunteers. In the UAE, this is also the trend, according to local waste management authorities and environmental groups involved in cleaning beaches and recreational areas.  

However, there are other negative impacts of cigarette butt litter. A scientific study published in 2019 also revealed that the presence of cigarette butts in the soil affect the growth of some plants, reducing its germination success and length of the plant’s stems by about 27 percent.

Other earlier studies have also investigated the impact of the filters into marine life and showed that the toxins released by cigarette butts into waterways can kill them. The NatGeo report cited the findings of US researchers on the impact of chemicals from cigarette butts to fishes. Experiments found by Tom Novotny, an epidemiologist at the San Diego State University, noted that “one cigarette butt in a litre of water kills half the fish”.

Novotny has suggested that one of the more radical solutions to the problem with cigarette filters is to ban them altogether since according to him, filters have not shown to improve health outcomes among smokers. 

While there are efforts from small companies to come up with more environment-friendly cigarette butts as an option for smokers, the bad habit of littering cigarette butts remain to be the biggest problem.