Cigarettes are Polluting Oceans

I was at the off-leash part of Spanish Banks beach the other day. There was a man with his dog – a responsible pet owner if the doggie pop bag he was carrying was any indication. The man was also smoking and, when he finished his cigarette, he threw it on the beach and kicked some sand over it. I was amazed. Here was somebody who obviously picked up after his dog BUT he could not pick up after himself. Does he think he’s living in some strange diorama of an ashtray?

He’s not an anomaly. Smokers continuously flick their cigarettes out their car windows or stub them out and leave them on sandy beaches. Aside from the former being an incredible fire hazard, it’s bizarro behavior. The Canadian Press published an article this week to point out that shorelines in Vancouver and Victoria are littered with cigarette butts.

They’re so prevalent that volunteer coastline cleanup crews in British Columbia say they make up for almost 50 percent of waste collected. Cigarette filters are made of plastic and are not biodegradable. They are also toxic to marine life. Studies show that a used cigarette filter with a bit of remaining tobacco are so toxic to fish that one butt per litre of water is enough to contaminate. 

“There’s been studies looking at how a lot of smokers don’t consider throwing cigarette butts on the ground littering,” Cassandra Konecy, a researcher with the University of British Columbia, told the Canadian Press. “For a lot of people, it’s pretty shocking to hear that they are made of plastic and I don’t think it’s very common knowledge.” 

Most also don’t know that cigarette butts can be recycled. City crews empty cigarette butt receptacles found on street poles on busy streets which are then shipped to TerraCycle’s recycling plant in Ontario where filters are melted down and used to make plastic benches or picnic tables.

It's such a problem that the City of Vancouver is handing out pocket cigarette-butt holders in an attempt to get people to stop flicking them out of their cars and grinding them out on our sandy beaches. The idea is the butts go into the plastic holders which people can then empty them into receptacles. Of course, these holders are plastic which isn’t a great solution, either. We like North Vancouver Mayor Darrell Mussatto’s idea of legislating a buyback program by placing a dollar deposit on every package of cigarettes sold. The money would be returned when the butts are returned, much like how our can and bottle recycling work.

Let’s hope this idea gets some steam. Meanwhile, hopefully, people catch on that throwing out cigarette butts is littering our beautiful oceans.