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ButtItsSerious: Why Cigarette Waste Is Everybody's Problem

Updated: Aug 9

It is no secret, that cigarettes and tobacco consumption have an adverse effect on one’s health. While consuming these products (and their byproducts), you might be well aware of their health repercussions, especially owing to the bold advisory message on the packets. Rules and regulations have made it mandatory to make consumers aware of the health side effects of cigarette consumption. But, there is one side effect that is less advertised but more prevalent- The environmental impact of cigarette waste.


Worldwide, around 5.6 trillion cigarettes are smoked each year. From this, only about 1/3rd are disposed of responsibly, while the rest, make it to our landfills. This has led to cigarettes becoming the LARGEST cause of plastic pollution in the world!


The Big Picture: A report by WHO states that the global tobacco industry costs the world more than 8 million human lives. While this number is enough to stop you in your tracks, there are more- Around 600 million trees, 200 000 hectares of land and 22 billion tonnes of water are compromised for one year’s worth of tobacco production.

The same report, named ‘Tobacco: Poisoning our planet’ highlights that the tobacco industry’s carbon footprint from production, processing and transport is equivalent to 1/5th of the CO2 produced by the commercial airline industry each year! Another report by Truth Initiative found that the chemicals leeching from a single cigarette butt can release enough toxins to kill 50% of saltwater and freshwater fish exposed to it for 96 hours. What these numbers could mean for global warming and our climate is something you can deduce yourself.


While larger, first-world countries like the USA have decided to come down strong in making the tobacco industry liable, it is the smaller countries (which rely on agricultural production of tobacco for trade) that suffer higher consequences today.

Back home, here in India, the government decided to implement solutions for this waste crisis. In 2020 the National Green Tribunal passed an order directing the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to lay down guidelines for appropriate cigarette waste disposal. However so far, not much has been done in this regard. The good news is that some countries are getting the balance right and these will form great learning or imitation models. For example, Japan has set up dedicated smoking zones in both- Public and private spaces so that butt waste can be collected and managed effectively from these designated places. This simple step has made the entire waste management process much more organized and efficient!


The role of citizen responsibility: Sure, when this issue of the cigarette waste crisis comes up, all eyes tend to be on the policymakers and higher authorities. While that is crucial to maintain accountability, the consumers also play a significant role in contributing to the waste issue. Since our country imposes no strict bans on smoking, the freedom to purchase and use cigarettes and other tobacco byproducts lie with the users. But, since there are also no strict laws against irresponsible disposal, the responsibility is often shrugged off. As we mentioned earlier and as you must already be aware, cigarettes contain plastic and toxic components. When a cigarette butt is carelessly trashed on a roadside curb, or in a public place it becomes a direct contributor to the waste crisis. For regular or chain smokers, this can be a significant contribution. However, if the same butt finds its way to a bin, the chances of it getting managed well are higher. Here are a few ways in which you or your peers can manage their own cigarette waste:


  • Many cigarette vendors now provide dustbins at their shops or stalls. If you don’t see one, ask your vendor where you can dispose of your cigarette. It is likely they’ll lead you to the nearest bin.


  • If you drive a car, it is always a good idea to have a mini bin for your vehicle. Dispose of your cigarette waste there, until you find a proper source to discard it in.


  • At home and in your office, maintain segregated bins for cigarette waste. Not only does this make it easier to manage the waste responsibly, but it also prevents adding toxic waste to your other bins. This is especially useful if there is more than one smoker in the house/office.


  • Retain your cigarette packet. Even once you’re done smoking, the same cigarette packet can be used to store butts when you’re on the move. It is also small enough to fit in your bag or pocket until you find a bin to dispose of the waste.



Besides knowing what to do, it is also crucial you learn what not to do for appropriate cigarette disposal:

  • Don’t flush your butts. This pollutes the wastewater stream, clogs pipes, and ends up polluting the rivers & oceans.


  • Don’t litter on beaches, pavements, or parks- Most of these public places are spots for birds and stray animals. The butts you discard may end up being consumed by them, leading to toxic poising and illnesses!


  • Don’t bin it with your organic waste. While tobacco itself can be composted, the other components of a cigarette contain plastic, fibre, and other non-biodegradable materials. If you tend to compost at home, this will mess up your pit. Similarly, don’t add these butts to your wet waste pile either. Try to have a separate bin for cigarette waste, so you can send it ahead for recycling with ease.


  • Don’t ash cigarettes in your plants - Use an ashtray or bowl for when you smoke!



The current scenario: The silver lining and a solution!

Everything said and done, today the scenario for environmental safety looks more hopeful than ever before. With citizens increasing their self-awareness around leading a sustainable life, there is a rising wave of increased responsibility amongst most people. Similarly, the Government of India recently proposed rules for better management, which would make a manufacturer responsible for managing post-consumer plastic waste. This presents a silver lining for dealing with the cigarette waste crisis on a large scale. The measures being taken are consistent with the Tobacco Control Treaty that India signed in 2004 during the WHO convention. This may also mean that cigarette consumers will end up paying marginally more and indirectly be made to support environmental clean-up. That being said, some believe that last-mile collection may be the most challenging part of managing the entire issue of cigarette waste. It is for this reason that we at Code Effort are striving to make the process easier. By handing over more ownership to citizens, cigarette vendors, corporate houses, and even cigarette manufacturers, we aim to make the collection and management a smooth journey. If you fall in any of these categories or are just a concerned citizen willing to be proactive, you can join our network of waste warriors and start collecting cigarette waste from your surroundings. Whatever you send to us, will be recycled completely, to create consumer goods like cushions, stuffed toys, and more! The bonus? You’ll also be compensated for the waste collected! To know more about what we create with cigarette waste, click here. For a detailed insight into how we function, read our blog or check us out on Instagram! Waste is a universal problem. Let’s change the narrative, by contributing to universal solutions! We hope to partner up with you soon! To get in touch with us, click here.