OSEA Safety Blog

Put Your (Cigarette) Butts in their Place!

Saturday, July 11, 2020 Brenda Griffin

Did you know cigarette butts make up more than 38% of all collected litter? And, to further put that number into perspective, 4.5 trillion cigarette butts are littered worldwide each year. So, what’s the big deal?

Cigarette waste is toxic.

Butts contain arsenic and lead, nicotine, and 3000+ toxic chemicals that are poisonous to fish; in addition to 12,000+ cellulose acetate fibers per butt. In fact, researchers have found that once cigarette butts are soaked in a liter of water for 96 hours, it leaches out enough toxins to kill half of the fresh and salt-water fish exposed to them. Also, they are not biodegradable. Only about 38% of cigarette butts decompose after 2 years, so they linger in the environment.

Cleanup of cigarette butt litter waste is expensive

Cities spend between $3M and $16M on cigarette clean up!

Littering butts is the most common method of disposal

Fire-safe disposal options are a challenge for communities. As smoking bans have increased, smokers are not outside where fire-safe receptacles may not be available, so simply putting butts “out” on the ground is typical. According to truthinitiative.org, 75% of smokers report doing this, and it’s estimated that smokers litter up to 65% of their cigarette butts. Once on the ground, they make their way into sewer systems via stormwater runoff, lakes, streams, and oceans. Fires from cigarette butts also remains a concern.

What’s being done?

Some communities are banning the use and/or purchase of cigarettes in their communities. One non-profit in California has started a campaign called, “hold onto your butt,” to educated beachgoers on cigarette butt pollution on local beaches. Vancouver and other cities have partnered with TerraCycle to collect cigarette butts for recycling by placing 110 recycle bins in the downtown area. 49 states also use these bins to keep butts off the streets and waterways.

What can you do?

  1. Provide employees with a fire-proof disposal container, encouraging proper disposal.
  2. Keep parking areas swept up and dispose of sweepings properly.




Slaughter et al, “Toxicity of cigarette butts, and their chemical components, to marine and freshwater fish,” Tobacco Control, May 2011.

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