Politics, Community & Society > Smouldering Toxic Time Bombs

Smouldering Toxic Time Bombs

Published: June 8, 2009

Everyone is aware of the chemicals found in cigarettes. We also know what damage smoking does to our lungs and bodies so it is no surprise that cigarette butts are called toxic time bombs when they end up in the environment.

Butts are the second largest form of litter in Australia after chewing gum and the volume is growing as laws force smokers to move outside. The butts filter and trap the chemicals which are released into the environment. It is still a common sight to see someone throw the butt away on the street. The butt then ends up in the gutter. From there they end up in the storm water where they leach toxins. According to the Butt Litter Trust one cigarette creates 7.5 litres of biohazardous water.

The trust is working to reduce cigarette butt litter and holds an annual Butt Free City Campaign. The volunteers educate smokers about the environmental damage butts do and hand out free pocket ash trays.

The Sydney City Council reveals that 15,500 butts are dumped each day. That equates to 5.4 million a year, many of which end up in the Sydney Harbour. The council is also working to educate people about the butt problem and to think about what they do after they ash out their cigarettes. In New South Wales butts create 13,000 cubic metres of solid waste a year and can take up to 5 years to break down. Australia throws out 7.2 billion butts annually. No matter where they end up, they still carry a risk of leaching nicotine and Pyrene into ground water. Research shows that cigarettes contribute up to 10% of sediment contamination. This toxic build up then ends up in food chains and into our food or water. Smokers are constantly adding to the build up with every cigarette.

Many of the anti-butt groups are blaming the lack of proper bins to dispose of them safely. The smokers were asked to smoke outside with out the bins to dispose of cigarettes safely. Smouldering butts have also been blamed for starting bush fires as the cigarettes are thrown out the window into dry grass.

It is only education and the provision of cigarette bins which will stop decades of thoughtless cigarette disposal, quite like the way public spitting became a social sin.

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