Cigarette Butts Are The Ocean’s Single Largest Source Of Pollution

by : Charlie Cocksedge on : 16 Apr 2019 12:26
cigarette butts on beach, largest source of trash in the oceansNOAA.gov/Wikimedia Commons

Thanks to campaigns, initiatives, and a number of eye-opening documentaries, awareness of pollution – particularly in our oceans – is on the rise every day.

There’s a concerted effort, especially among the younger generation, to tackle pollution and waste, as well as the impact it’s having on climate change.


When most of us think of cleaning up our oceans and cutting down our use of non-recyclable products, we often think of plastic products like straws, cotton buds, drinks bottles, and bags.

It’s recently emerged however, the single biggest source of rubbish in the world’s oceans is cigarette butts.


Cigarette filters can cause irreparable damage to our oceans and wildlife. The huge number of them, and their small size, means they’re found everywhere and are easily ingested by animals.


As governments and big brands work to reduce their plastic output, the cigarette industry has largely remained quiet about the issue.

A group of activists are committed to changing this though, and have come together to work towards getting cigarette filters banned. The campaign is being bolstered by not only environmental activists, but by linking with those focused on human health too.

Among them are a leading tobacco industry academic, a California lawmaker, and a worldwide surfing organisation, as NBC News reports.



Cigarette butts are the single most collected item on the world’s beaches during cleanup operations, with more than 60 million of them being picked up over 32 years.

Thomas Novotny, a professor of public health at San Diego State University, said:

It’s pretty clear there is no health benefit from filters. They are just a marketing tool. And they make it easier for people to smoke.

It’s also a major contaminant, with all that plastic waste. It seems like a no-brainer to me that we can’t continue to allow this.

An assemblyman in California proposed a ban on cigarettes with filters altogether, though couldn’t get his proposal out of committee. While a New York state senator has created legislation to provide a rebate for cigarette butts returned to ‘redemption centres’, though this idea has also been delayed.



The most successful scheme so far is in San Francisco, which has an additional 60-cent fee per pack of cigarettes, raising around $3 million a year, to help with the costs of cleaning up discarded cigarette filters.

One of America’s biggest anti-smoking organisations – the Truth initiative – are also battling to cut out filters, and recently launched a new campaign to urge people to cut down. While the Cigarette Butt Pollution Project is also working towards the same goal.

5.6 trillion cigarettes are produced worldwide every year. The majority of them come with filters made of cellulose acetate – a form of plastic which takes more than a decade to decompose.


If you have a story you want to tell send it to UNILAD via [email protected]

Most Read StoriesMost Read


University Students Rally To Kick Out Kyle Rittenhouse After Murder Acquittal

Charlie Cocksedge

Charlie Cocksedge is a journalist and sub-editor at UNILAD. He graduated from the University of Manchester with an MA in Creative Writing, where he learnt how to write in the third person, before getting his NCTJ. His work has also appeared in such places as The Guardian, PN Review and the bin.

Topics: Life, oceans, Pollution


NBC News
  1. NBC News

    Plastic straw ban? Cigarette butts are the single greatest source of ocean trash