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Environmental Destruction

Cigarette butts are toxic waste

Published Apr 6, 2022
Cigarette butts on a sidewalk

Just look around. They’re everywhere. There were over 900,000 littered cigarette butts in the US in 2020.1 Cigarette butts are the most common toxic waste found in beach and waterway cleanups and the number one item found on California highways.2 3

This is dangerous for many reasons, including:

  • Cigarette butts are poisonous when ingested by children or animals.4 5
  • The toxic chemicals in cigarette butts are a threat to our aquatic ecosystems.6
  • The substances that leach out are highly toxic to freshwater micro-organisms.7

In 2020, 190,042 cigarettes were removed from California beaches and inland waterways as part of the annual International Coastal Cleanup.8

Worldwide, it’s estimated that 1.69 billion pounds of cigarette butts end up as waste each year.9 A study conducted by the California Department of Transportation found that cigarette butts make up 34 percent of the total waste captured in California.10

The production of cigarettes is very damaging to the environment. It is estimated that one tree is consumed for every 300 cigarettes produced.11

Smoking also poses a direct threat to our forests, homes, and parks.12 Discarded cigarette butts have been linked to large wildfires, resulting in the destruction of wildlife, vegetation, and property.13 Cigarette-induced fires can burn hundreds of acres of land and have done so all over the state.14

California invested $1.1 billion in state and local waste clean-up in 2021.15 A 2009 study on the impact of tobacco waste on San Francisco streets found that tobacco waste accounted for almost 25 percent of all litter. It was estimated that tobacco product waste clean-up cost San Francisco approximately $7.4 million annually.16 Soon after the results were released, San Francisco enacted a cigarette clean-up fee which is used to clean up butts from streets, tourist venues, and storm drains.

Click the infographic here to learn more.

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lady in a garden wearing a head scarf

Hold the industry accountable

California has already protected people from other harmful products, and it's time to hold the tobacco industry to the same standards.