Hannah Cole for Whistlefish
Cigarettes are not biodegradable, although you can recycle the cardboard and foil packaging. When tossed on the ground, the butts fall down storm drains and go into the sea, where they are ingested by marine creatures, which can then die. Dropped butts are the most common form of litter, so this issue needs addressing. Other ideas to solve cigarette litter from California include:
- A proposed Bill to ban single-use filters. This forces companies to make cigarettes that take environmental responsibility.
- The wealthy district of Beverly Hills has banned the sale of cigarettes, chewing tobacco and e-cigarettes.
- Many cities now ban smoking at beaches and parks. Elsewhere, things are even more stringent. In Costa Rica (voted best country in the Happy Planet Index), you can only smoke in your own home. And in the ‘happy kingdom of Bhutan’ (run by a Buddhist King), you can hardly smoke at all.
This disturbing photo shows a bird feeding a cigarette butt to its chick, thinking it’s food. The Devon town of Sidmouth has a campaign to ask people not to drop cigarette butts on the pavement or out the car window. Just like balloons, 70% of anything dropped in England ends up in the sea, and butts dropped in the countryside can cause wildfires (like putting a match to dry paper).
Cigarette lighters can include arsenic and lead, both of which (along with nicotine) kill fish and marine creatures. This gull was found dead with plastic lighters in its stomach. E-cigarettes also contain plastic, lead and mercury, plus flammable lithium-ion batteries) that should be disposed of as toxic waste.
Of course, the easy solution is to give up smoking. Read Kickass Recovery, a book by former addict Billy who asks you to meditate (even if you think it’s silly) and steer clear of those who rain on your parade. Finally Free is an illustrated guide by Allen Carr which has way better success rates than animal-tested nicotine patches, though the NHS won’t fund it (the idea is to get your mind back to the state, before you took up smoking). Chewing gum is popular, but choose natural brands free from xylitol (lethal to pets, and can also harm if gum is littered on the street, as it has a sweet taste that entices animals).
How to Dispose of Cigarette Butts
If you smoke outside your own home or office, the best solution is to use a reusable personal ashtray. These are easy to carry about and you just put the butt inside (no need to stub it out) and closing it extinguishes the cigarette, which you can then safely dispose of later on. Two good brands are The Pocket Ashtray and Boodi (this brand also offers a beach version that you pour sand in to extinguish the cigarette, then the sand pours out the hole in the bottom). Both types have panels for councils to fund them, with ads from local business.
Councils and businesses should also install quality cigarette bins outside premises, as the indoor smoking ban means obviously that there are far more butts outside pubs and restaurants and hotels. No Butts offers wall-mounted bins from £40, and free-standing bins. They are easy to empty and feature a baffle system that extinguishes butts quickly and safely. Their smoking shelters are ideal for English weather, as they include butt bins, and also provide weather protection, to discourage smoking at building entrances or undesirable locations. Also reduces the risk of fire, as butts won’t blow away in the wind.
Terracycle is a US organisation that offers lots of boxes for communities to recycle difficult items. Just request a pack to put in a community centre, office or shop and then people can deposit used cigarettes and ash, inner and outer foil packaging, cigarette filters and loose tobacco pouches and rolling paper. It does charge, but a council ordering one of these boxes for regular collection, is far cheaper than hiring staff to pick up butts all over town.
Better Brands of Cigarettes?
Of course, no cigarettes are healthy (and promoting them as such could do more harm, as people may smoke more of them). But if you do smoke, there are better brands. Over 4.5 million trillions cigarette butts are littered each year, with cigarette packaging responsible for 4% of the world’s deforestation.
Note that by law, nearly all cigarettes are tested on animals, so there is no guaranteed these are not either. If you don’t agree with animal testing, don’t smoke.
- Woodland Craft Smokey Treats is the world’s first biodegradable cigarette brand, developed in South Africa, with profits helping to plant trees and food gardens in under-privileged communities. The filter is made from wood pulp, and the tobacco is free from additives. The paper is made from unbleached wood pulp, and the packaging is made from recycled cardboard and soy ink.
- Green Butts is the world’s first biodegradable cigarette filter made from flax, cotton and hemp. It degrades in 3 days (in the bin, best not to compost in the garden). Or 2 minutes in water (compared to 15 years for standard filters).
- The best other option is likely to buy loose tobacco, to avoid packaging, chemicals and plastic filters. Manitou Rolling Tobacco is organic and free from chemicals, produced in Germany. Use with a terracotta hydrostone to stop tobacco drying out (pop in water for a few minutes before use, then back in the tin).
- Honeyrose London is a brand of herbal cigarettes, cigars and rolling tobacco, that some people use to try to give up conventional cigarettes (however Allen Carr in his book above states that this is the issue – you can’t cut down cigarettes to give up, you have to simply give up). Around since 1910, these are not healthy as they still contain (less) tar and carbon monoxide, but are free from tobacco and nicotine.
Fire Safety Advice for Cigarettes
Smoking is the most common cause of people dying in fires. If you smoke (or live with someone who does), here are tips from London Fire Brigade:
- Blue Cross has info on keeping pets safe from cigarettes and e-cigarettes.
- Don’t smoke in bed nor on chairs (in case you fall asleep). Never smoke near medical oxygen, air-flow pressure relief mattresses, or paraffin-based emollients.
- Rexite Table Ashtray is one of the safest on the market, designed to hold forgotten cigarettes and cigars, until you return. It has a perforated aluminium lid for butts to drop into, and is easy to wipe clean with a soft cloth (do not use alcohol, abrasives or chemicals). Don’t balance cigarettes (or cigars) on the edge of ashtrays, and ensure pipes are cold before emptying into bins. Don’t put Rizla paper in ashtrays, they could catch fire.
- Nomatiq Lighters contain no butane and don’t need refilling. Just recharge with a USB charger. 100% windproof, these last up to 100 lights on a single charge. Safety instructions included (the company says it’s not responsible for any damage or injury caused, due to improper use). Do not overcharge (one hour is enough for a full charge). This is a US product so not sure if the USB cord would work in England, but there may be similar items in stores. Or use refillable metal lighters that go out, when you let go.
- Buy safety matches (that strike on the box) and don’t throw them in the bin immediately. tree creates 1 million matches (15,000 trees chopped daily for 15 billion cigarettes).
- A fire-steel is a low-tech stick made from magnesium that works a bit like rubbing sticks of wood, to create a fire. The spark is created from your hand’s kinetic energy. Find in good outdoor stores.
- If you smoke e-cigarettes, don’t let batteries near coins or keys, and use the charger on a flat clean surface, away from flammable sofas or pillows. One man’s vape burst into flames in his pocket, causing third degree burns on his leg.
- Care for someone who smokes? Look out for overflowing ashtrays and scorch marks on floor, furniture or clothing. Most local fire stations offer free home visits, and can fit free smoke alarms (linked to care alarms) if needed. You can buy fire escape ropes (and bags for children/pets).