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Quit Myth #5: Cigarette Butts are Biodegradable
By the Quitter's Circle Staff
July 25, 2017

Quit Myth #5: Cigarette Butts are Biodegradable

Picture this: you’re driving down the highway and someone tosses a cigarette butt out of their car window; or you’re walking down the street and a passerby stubs out their butt on the ground.

These (and other) actions combine to make up a harsh reality: every year, approximately 75% of cigarette butts are discarded into the environment – out the window, on the ground, at the beach. That’s 4.5 trillion cigarette butts littering our world!

Some people might assume that cigarettes are biodegradable, meaning they will decompose naturally in the environment. After all, it’s just paper, plants and cotton, right?

Unfortunately, this is not correct. Cigarette butts actually contain a type of plastic that never fully breaks down, which can lead to water and air pollution. The reality is that cigarette litter causes problems for the environment, and for the people who live in it. Let’s take a closer look…

Cleaning Up: No Ifs, Ands, or Butts

Cigarettes should be disposed of properly like any other litter. This is not often the case: it’s estimated that 25-50% of all trash found on streets, and one-third of all ocean trash is comprised of cigarette butts. That’s harmful for fish, marine plants, and potentially even beach-goers! Is there anyone who likes cigarette butts in their sand castles?

Be honest: do you really want to see cigarette butts on the ground everywhere you walk? Neither do we! Yet 3.2 million cigarettes and cigarette filters are removed from beaches and waterways around the world each year. Cleaning up this trash is not an easy or efficient process. Removing cigarette butts from city streets and waterways is expensive.

Improperly discarded cigarettes can also cause house and forest fires – smoking actually causes an estimated 30 percent of fire deaths in the United States! So if you do smoke or know someone who does, dispose of cigarette butts properly in the appropriate locations. You’ll potentially be saving lives and helping the environment. 

Saving the Environment, One Cigarette at a Time

Beyond disposing of your cigarettes in the appropriate receptacles, there are other things you can do to reduce the environmental impact of cigarettes:

1. Quit smoking!

  • Cigarette production contributes to thousands of acres of deforestation each year. Not purchasing cigarettes, as well as not smoking them, can help keep our environment clean and healthy. Even if you slip-up, it’s important to dispose of the cigarette butt properly and safely.

2. Participate in town and waterfront clean-ups.

  • Volunteer with an environmental organization in your area to beautify your town! They will give you the proper tools and training to make sure you stay safe while cleaning. Volunteering is a great way to get involved in your community and feel good about yourself.

3. Educate others on the risks of disposing of cigarettes in the environment.

  • Now that you know how bad cigarette litter is for the environment, pass the message along to your friends. Commit to preventing cigarette litter together. Each person can make a difference for people and the earth.

Next time you make a list of your reasons for quitting, consider adding the environment. Smoking doesn’t only impact you, it also hurts the world around you – so consider making a change today.


See additional quit smoking resources from our partner American Lung Association.