Cigarette butts discarded in the soil every year can cause severe damage to the environment disrupting plant growth and reducing germination success by 27 percent while shooting length of clover by 28 percent, Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) study found. The weight of the root was also reduced by 57 percent.
In the grass, germination success and shoot length got reduced by 10 percent and 13 percent respectively.
Globally an estimated 4.5 trillion butts clutter up each year. As the most pervasive form of plastic pollution on the planet, they can take even decades to break down as per the study.
The filter in most cigarette butts is made of a type of a bioplastic, cellulose acetate fiber.
However, the effect of filters from un-smoked cigarettes is almost the same on the growth of the plant as used filters, researchers found. They pointed out that the filter itself can cause damage to the plants, even without burning of the tobacco that releases the extra toxins.
According to the new study published in the journal Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety, the team of academics sampled places around the city of Cambridge and found about 128 discarded cigarette butts per sq meter of area.
Control experiments were carried out with pieces of wood identical to the cigarette butts in shape and size.
Cigarette Butts Take Decades To Break Down
Dr. Dannielle Green, lead author and senior lecturer in biology at ARU said, “Dropping cigarette butts seem to be a socially acceptable form of littering and we need to raise awareness that the filters do not disappear and instead can cause serious damage to the environment. “
“Despite being common sight littering streets and parks worldwide, our study is the first to show the impact of cigarette butts on plants. We found they had a detrimental effect on the germination success, shoot length of both grass and clover, and reduced the root weight of clover by over half.
“Ryegrass and white clover, the two species we tested, are important forage crops for livestock as well as being commonly found in urban green spaces.
“These plants support a wealth of biodiversity, even in city parks, and white clover is ecologically important for pollinators and nitrogen fixation,” said Dr. Green.
Media was also found to caption ‘Why I’m collecting a million cigarette butts? ‘
Co-author Dr. Bas Boots added: “Although further work is needed, we believe it is the chemical composition of the filter that is causing the damage to plants.
“Most are made from cellulose acetate fibres, and added chemicals which make the plastic more flexible, called plasticisers, may also be leaching out and adversely affecting the early stages of plant development.”
Provisions of Law
Local authorities and not central government set fines for littering that also include cigarette butts.
As per the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Department, the range of penalty notices for littering should be between £65 and £150, with the default fine being £100.
One of the authorities in the City of London sets its fines at £150 and says about six million cigarette butts are littered on its streets every year, and that it spends £3.8m for cleaning them up.
In a bid 700 “butt bins” on walls and street lamps have been installed in the City of London that also offers free pocket ashtrays to reduce the number of discarded butts on the streets.
The research by environmental charity Keep Britain Tidy suggests that despite littering is a criminal offense, dropping the cigarette butts is not considered as littering by 10% and more smokers.
Allison Ogden-Newton, the charity’s chief executive, said: “These butts are toxic and plastic and cause significant damage when they get into our aquatic and marine environments. Now we know they are having an impact on our plant life too.
“It is time for smokers to take responsibility and bin their butts – not pollute our planet with them.”