Surfrider Vancouver Chapter

Hold On To Your Butts (HOTYB)

Imagine if every time we finished a coffee, we crushed the cup underfoot and left it on the ground. So why has stumping a cigarette butt on the pavement become an acceptable form of littering?

Total cigarette butts counted from Vancouver beaches 2015-2019

cigarette butts pollution

Nearly one million cigarette butts are tossed on the ground every day in Vancouver.

  • Cigarette butts are the most littered item in the world, with 4.95-trillion tossed on the ground or in the water every year. Out of the 18 billion cigarettes smoked each day worldwide, only one-third of the butts make it to the trash.

  • The filters in cigarette butts are made of plastic microfibres: cellulose acetate, a non-biodegradable plastic, can take up to 25 years to decompose.

  • Cigarette butts contain a lot of chemicals: up to 60 known carcinogens have been found in cigarettes filters, and they leach chemicals such as cadmium, lead, and arsenic within an hour of contact with the water.

  • Sea turtles, birds, dolphins and other marine life have been found to eat cigarette butts. In addition to the toxic chemicals they contain, butts can also cause digestive blockages that lead to starvation and death.

  • Cigarette butts are the most prevalent type of debris collected in beach clean-ups around the world; they are consistently the number one form of litter (by count) found on local beaches in Vancouver.

cigarette butt problem

Surprisingly, it’s not so well known amongst smokers that cigarette butts are harmful to the environment. Popular belief considers them to be paper or cotton based, and just as biodegradable as the other materials in the cigarette.

New smoking laws have also had an impact on cigarette litter in the environment. When smoking was allowed in indoor public spaces, the majority of butts were discarded in ashtrays and deposited in the trash. But now, with smokers having to venture outdoors to smoke, finding an ashtray might not be as convenient as the ground or brick wall. Or even the beach.

Some smokers see the beach as one giant ashtray. Why? Well, it could be because of the sand-filled ashtray bowls usually found in restaurant gardens and outdoor venues. Sand has become a familiar putter-outter, without the association that this sand isn’t safely contained in a bucket – its destiny lies in the ocean surrounding it. If a smoker were asked to put out their butt in an aquarium tank filled with fish, would they do it?

What Are The Solutions To Cigarette Butt Litter?

  • Be Trash Responsible
    The City of Vancouver is piloting a pocket ashtray program. Members of the public can receive a free portable ashtray that fits snugly in their pocket for smoking on the go. The ashtrays are especially effective for those who drive a lot for work and have nowhere to stub out.

  • Changing The Problem At The Source
    California is considering the ban of plastic filters altogether. Scientists and manufacturers are working to design an eco-friendly filter alternative. Greenbutts, a San Diego based LLC, have created a filter composed entirely of organic, natural materials that break down in water in just a few minutes.

  • How Do You Think We Can End Cigarette Butt Litter?
    Surfrider Vancouver is always open to your opinions on how we can go about tackling the issue of cigarette butts. Contact us and give us your thoughts!