Cigarette butts and storm water don't mix

  • Published
  • By Lana Hedlund
  • 341st Civil Engineer Squadron
Most Air Force Global Strike Command Airmen have seen a person smoke a cigarette then throw it out the window or drop it on the ground.

Where do all these cigarette butts go? What impacts do they have?

A cigarette butt thrown out the window of a vehicle or thrown on the ground often enters the stormwater system and is carried directly into rivers and streams without being treated. Cigarette filters are the waste generated from almost every cigarette that is smoked. These filters, commonly referred to as butts, are made from plastic products that are not biodegradable. Traces of tar, nicotine, and other chemicals from the burned tobacco are left behind in the filter.

A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed children who ingest cigarette butts experience acute toxicity symptoms such as nausea and vomiting. These symptoms are due to heavy metals being left behind after the cigarette has been smoked. A study by Legacy, a national public health foundation, found contaminants from one cigarette butt per one liter of water caused toxic concentrations lethal to fish. Also, Ocean Conservancy conducted studies that found many animals mistakenly ingest cigarette butts and develop digestive problems.

While cigarette butts are a hazard to wildlife, they also act as a significant source of litter across the country. In 2010, more than one million cigarette butts were picked up from beaches and inland waterways during the Ocean Conservancy's International Coastal Cleanup.

The Keep America Beautiful Campaign reported that along roadways across the U.S., cigarette butts accounted for 38 percent of all litter picked up. Cigarette butts were the number one item collected in both cleanup campaigns.

Help protect the water and the environment by not tossing cigarette butts out the window or on the ground.