Cigarette butts litter Astoria city parks and one leader is asking smokers to stop leaving them behind. City Councilor Karen Mellin told her fellow council members this week that she is taking an active role in the county tobacco-free committee saying the small task force is a good starting point.
Mellin pointed out that the move by Clatsop County Commissioners to declare county properties tobacco free is the right direction seeming to imply that other organizations should pursue more aggressive policies as well. She said that smokers may not understand how toxic cigarette butts can be and begged smokers to pick them up and properly dispose of them instead of leaving them for others to contend with.
Cigarette butts have become one of our most important litter issues. The problem has increased in recent years with government legislation for smoking restrictions in public buildings and restaurants forcing smokers outside, where butts are often littered. An estimated 4.5 trillion cigarette
butts are littered worldwide every year.
Not only do littered butts seriously reduce the aesthetic quality of any environment, but they can cause a great deal of harm. Areas with a high number of littered cigarette butts look dirty and uncared for, which attracts more littering of other rubbish items. If a butt is simply dropped, it can smoulder for up to 3 hours. Cigarette smoke contains up to 4,000 chemicals so each second the butt is left alight, dangerous toxins are released into the environment. Flicked butts can cause fires. When thrown from a motor vehicle into dried grass butts can start a grass fire or even a bushfire.
Butts contain hazardous chemicals such as cadmium, arsenic and lead that are partially filtered out during the smoking process. When butts are discarded, wind and rain carry them into the water supply. The toxic chemicals they contain are then leached into aquatic ecosystems, threatening the quality of the water and marine life. What are butts made of? Cigarette filters or butts are made from fibrous material designed to trap tar and other toxic chemicals before they reach the smoker's lungs. The filters are made from cellulose acetate (a material similar to rayon) and are coated with paper. Each butt contains the remnants of tobacco, paper and a filter. The residue in the butts contains toxic, soluble chemicals. These chemicals are deadly and add to the existing cocktail of environmental pollution.
Cigarette butts can take up to 12 months to break down in freshwater and up to 5 years to break down in seawater. Birds and aquatic animals can mistake the butts as food, resulting in serious digestive problems that may lead to death. Butts have been found in the stomachs of young birds, sea turtles and other marine creatures.