There's been a lot of fanfare for banning plastic straws and plastic bags recently, but it turns out that neither is the biggest problems for our oceans—it’s cigarette butts.
The second-hand effects of tobacco use have long been touted, but the littering of cigarette butts might be the longest-lasting and most disastrous side effect of smoking, especially considering the butts are the “most littered item in the world,” according to a recent NBC News article.
The vast majority of the 5.6 trillion cigarettes manufactured each year have a filter made from a plastic that can take over a decade to decompose, which means smokers are doing more than ten years worth of damage when they treat our oceans like an empty beer can.
Much like the butts themselves, ideas for dealing with the problem have been floating around for years.
Big cigarette manufacturers like Phillip Morris have worried that they might be stuck with the blame for the littering, and have consequently done some (pretty minimal) work to prevent people from tossing their butts on the ground, including installing trash receptacles and telling people not to do it. There, at least now their hands are clean, even if our oceans aren’t.
Meanwhile, individual businesses and venues have been finding creative ways to reduce the proliferation of cigarette buts on their property, including training crows to pick up butts on the beach. Yes, really. They can only do so much, however, given how rampant the problem continues to be.
We suggest people start smoking something else.