Don’t Overlook the No. 1 Plastic Pollutant

Despite recycling efforts, biggest culprit lies at our feet

January 28, 2019

When it comes to plastic litter, many environmentally minded building managers have it covered. They provide recycling bins for plastic bottles and other recyclable packaging and don’t stock plastic drinking straws. Manufacturers, such as Nestle, and food service providers are eliminating plastic straws and looking into biodegradable water bottles.

Yet for all the attention plastic bottles and straws receive, there is one culprit that provides the most plastic waste yet has not received half as much attention—plastic cigarette filters, CNN reports.

Cigarette butts with plastic filters are the most littered item in the world. Chances are good you’ve had to clean up butts left from people taking a smoke break outside your facility. According to the World Health Organization, about two-thirds of butts are dumped on the ground, where they make their way to streams, rivers, and oceans through storm drains. Once they are in the environment, the filters can take up to a decade to decompose.

Cigarette butts have been the top item collected in the Ocean Conservancy’s global beach cleanups every year since the program began in 1986. In 2018 alone, the cleanup collected more than 2.4 million cigarette butts, followed by 1.7 million food wrappers, and 1.5 million plastic beverage bottles.

Some cities around the world levy fees on cigarette packets to help fund cleaning the butts off streets. Other cities fine people who throw their butts on the ground. Some environmental experts believe biodegradable filters are the answer while others believe these filters would still contain toxins that can take a long time to degrade.

For now, a strict facility policy against throwing butts on the ground and a regular sweeping program to clean areas around your building can help keep plastic cigarette butts out of our waterways.


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