Cigarette Butts Are Most Littered Item Worldwide And More Harmful Than Plastic Straws

by : Charlie Cocksedge on : 21 Jul 2019 16:01
plastic straws/cigarette buttsThe earth hero/Wikimedia/Max Pixel

As the war on plastic wages on, the most notable items to see a drastic decrease so far have been single use items such as straws, cutlery and plastic bottles.

While the reduction of single use plastics is vital and must be continued, a new study has revealed a bigger problem in terms of pollution and threat to the environment – cigarette butts.


We already knew cigarette butts were the single largest source of pollution in our oceans. Now, however, a new study has revealed the devastating impact they are having on the Earth, as discarded butts make their way into the soil and vegetation.


A study from the Anglia Ruskin University, as reported by BBC News, revealed the presence of discarded cigarettes in soil reduces germination success by 27 per cent and shoot length of clover by 28 per cent.

While grass germination success reduced by 10 per cent, and shoot length by 13 per cent, when cigarette butts were present in soil.


The study stated 4.5 trillion cigarette butts are discarded every year, making them the leading cause of plastic pollution in the world.

cigarette butts in packetMax Pixel

Most cigarette butts contain a filter, which is comprised of cellulose acetate fibre – a type of bioplastic. And while used butts are more commonly discarded, un-smoked cigarettes had almost the same effect on plant life as the used filters tested. This suggests the damage is caused by the materials found in the filter itself, while the added toxins from the burnt tobacco only increased the effect.

The study was published in the journal of Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety, and revealed an average of around 128 discarded butts were found per square metre around the city of Cambridge alone, where the study took place.

cigarette buttPixabay

According to the study’s lead author, Dr Dannielle Green, dropping butts seems to be ‘socially acceptable’, even though they ’cause serious damage to the environment’.

Dr Green added:

Despite being a common sight littering streets and parks worldwide, our study is the first to show the impact of cigarette butts on plants.

We found they had a detrimental effect on the germination success and shoot length of both grass and clover, and reduced the root weight of clover by over half.


Co-author, Dr Bas Boots, said they believe it is the chemical composition of filters which cause the most damage to plants. Cigarette filters take years, if not decades, to naturally break down.

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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: News, oceans, Plastic, Pollution


BBC News and 1 other
  1. BBC News

    Cigarette butts in soil hamper plant growth, study suggests

  2. Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety

    Cigarette butts have adverse effects on initial growth of perennial ryegrass (gramineae: Lolium perenne L.) and white clover (leguminosae: Trifolium repens L.)