• Robin Fontaine


Updated: May 18, 2020

After 6 months of harsh work in your office space, after having to wake up every morning to go to work, after having to leave your house before dawn and come back after dusk, you have finally earned the sacred right of holidays! Where will it be this year? I am thinking somewhere nice in the south next to the sea. The mood is excellent, you are relaxed, it is sunny, just enough wind to not feel too warm, the perfect setting… or almost perfect. One detail is coming to ruin your holiday; you are surrounded by cigarette butts. 2013 charts reveal that around 5 600 000 000 000 cigarettes were sold in that year, resulting in most probably the exact same number of cigarette butts. These butts have, individually, a tremendous impact on the environment. Most cigarette filters are composed of cellulose acetate, a plastic that can have dreadful effects on the body if ingested. Even if you are probably not going to inject it yourself directly, every time a cigarettes butt is thrown away in nature or on the street, these little pieces of plastic are washed away in rivers, lakes or seas and contaminate most marine wildlife. In the US, smoking-related debris equals approximately 1/3 of all waste items found in waters (ReefRelief.org; 2013).

Cigarette typically contains around 4000 chemical substances counting heavy metals. Most of these chemicals come from the agricultural use of tobacco, namely herbicides, insecticides, fungicides and rodenticides (Novotny et al., 2011). When these substances are released into the ocean, the equivalent of one cigarette butt is enough to contaminate 500l of water (think about how much 500 bottles of 1l represent). Furthermore, adding to the chemical pollution, cigarette butt also produces an essential visual and comfort pollution. Whether it is on a terrace or on the sand of a beach, an abundance of cigarette butts can discourage people from approaching or stopping by. On the contrary, an area free of butts will attract more people as it gives away a symbol of cleanness and respect.

Different solutions now exist for the waste management of these cigarette butts. The municipality of Monaco, for instance, offers every summer small pocket ashtrays. These ashtrays are very easy to use, when you come to the beach, you can pick one up on the free pickup stand, put it in the sand and put your butts in it. It does not require smokers to have their own pocket ashtrays, there are relatively wide and perfectly adapted for to put in the sand. With this operation, the municipality drastically reduced the number of cigarette butts left on the beach or thrown away in the sea. Novel solutions are being developed to recycle these wastes that are generally untreated. Most of the plastic, tobacco and paper can be used again, although the recycling industry of cigarette butts is still relatively young and it is currently developed by smart young entrepreneurs who know where the business of tomorrow will be. The French startup GreenMinded is presently developing new ways to collect these butts and is taking on the challenge of managing the whole recycling process from the collection to the delivery to recycling industries. Their solution, more than just recycling cigarette butts is to create a new mindset and to systematise the correct disposal of cigarette waste by making it interactive, connected and fun.

Thus, from a simple pocket ashtray to a connected cigarette bin, solutions already exist, and more are currently being developed. In both cases, the municipality and the company understood their problem and the consequences it could have on a bigger scale and decided to produce solutions to make a profit from cigarette butt disposal in one case and to gain an edge over competitors in the other, all while being more Eco-responsible. GreenMinded.fr Available at https://www.greenminded.fr/ Mairie de Monaco. (2015). La Mairie de Monaco poursuit l’opération « Monaco Plage Propre », en partenariat avec la Direction du Tourisme et des Congrès et la Société Monégasque d’Assainissement.  Novotny TE, Hardin SN, Hovda LR, et al. (2011). Tobacco and cigarette butt consumption in humans and animals. Tobacco Control. 20:i17-i20. ReefRelief.org. (2013). Available at https://www.reefrelief.org/2013/02/the-environmental-impact-of-cigarette-butt-waste-just-the-facts/

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