By Cynthia Wan
While there is consensus that discarded cigarette butts are a serious cause of litter and a nuisance to pick up, we seem to remain distant from the substantial pollution and damage they cause.
Littered cigarette butts, which are one of the top single-use plastics, unleash toxic chemicals that severely impact our land and water as well as the health of living organisms. While Environment and Climate Change Canada and Health Canada recognize butts as the most frequently found microplastics in aquatic environments, cigarette filters are not included as part of the government’s commendable goal to reach zero plastic waste in Canada by 2030.
In an effort to address the issues of pollution, chemical leaching, and microplastics, the St. Lawrence Neighbourhood Association Waste Reduction Group (SLNA-WRG) has partnered with the waste management company TerraCycle and members of the St. Lawrence Market Business Improvement Area to pilot a cigarette butt–recycling project.
This initiative involves the installation and servicing of 24 free butt receptacles outside of interested local food-based businesses. Due to the prominent locations of the receptacles, community members are able to easily access these collection points and deposit their cigarette butts in real time. Rather than simply being sent to a landfill, the collected butts are then recycled by TerraCycle to lessen the negative environmental and health issues they create.
Cigarette butts are actually the most abundant form of plastic waste in the world, with about 4.5 trillion individual butts polluting our global environment. As the most littered item on earth, they produce an estimated 1.69 billion pounds of toxic garbage each year.
In a recent issue of Environment International, Lucia et al. (2023) call these discarded butts “an environmental hazard for aquatic organisms” because “they contain more than 5,000 chemicals such as nicotine, metals, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.” Among these, “at least 150 compounds are considered highly toxic, mainly because of their carcinogenic and mutagenic potential,” the authors warn.
The problem is not limited to the ingredients in cigarette tobacco. Almost all of the 6 trillion cigarettes sold globally have plastic filters made with cellulose acetate, which degrades poorly, as the Bulletin of the World Health Organization pointed out in its October 2022 issue.
According to the city’s latest Litter Audit of Toronto, cigarette butts are the second most identifiable littered item after chewing gum, which account for 18.1% and 22.5% of all small litter, respectively. This is despite the fact that there are 10,300 litter bins throughout Toronto’s streets with receptacles for garbage, recycling, and cigarette butts. However, the butts collected in this manner go to landfill and are not recycled. This is not ideal, as the landfill itself then becomes a source of chemical leaching and spreads plastic waste.
The St. Lawrence Neighbourhood, as a community, is well positioned to tackle this global issue by changing people’s attitudes and behaviours regarding cigarette butt–littering. By installing recycling receptacles outside their establishments, the participating food and beverage operators are helping to reduce the cigarette waste on our main streets and raising awareness about this important issue.
The response from the community’s food-based businesses has been very positive, as can be seen by the growing number of receptacles throughout the St. Lawrence Neighbourhood.
The SLNA-WRG encourages all residents and visitors to the St. Lawrence area to keep an eye out for these new receptacles and, whenever possible, make use of them. Placing your cigarette butts in these new receptacles is a small step you can take to reduce your environmental footprint while keeping your environment and fellow community members healthy and safe!
A full list of the participating businesses and receptacle locations can be found here.
Founded in 2019, the SLNA-WRG’s objective is to help residents in the St. Lawrence Neighbourhood change their consumption patterns to reduce waste and positively impact climate change. If you are interested in participating or hearing about our current initiatives, you can contact us at email@example.com.
This post was edited by Lumida Editing & Proofreading
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