Updated: Aug 9
‘Smoking is injurious to health’- This is a phrase that almost all of us have heard or seen before. In the movie theatres and even on cigarette packs themselves, the warnings are loud and clear. Awareness efforts around the health implications of smoking have been prevalent for ages now, but with relatively minimal impact.
India alone has been estimated to have an approximate population of 100 million adult smokers. To quantify it for more perspective, we Indians make up for 12% of the world’s entire smoking population. According to an article by National Geographic, 18 billion cigarettes are bought every day in the world!
While the ill effects of smoking and potential diseases caused is common knowledge today, another lesser discussed repercussion of cigarette consumption is the extreme environmental pressure caused by it. In fact, cigarette butts are also claimed to be the most littered item in the world.
Now, you’re probably wondering- ‘How harmful can my one little cigarette even be?’
To truly understand the environmental damage that can be caused by your quick break-time smoke, you first need to know its components.
Let’s take a quick look at the anatomy of your cigarette. Generally, cigarettes are made up of 4 main parts:
● Tobacco and Nicotine:
The harmful side effects of tobacco consumption are no secret. Tobacco farming has been known to add greenhouse gasses into our ecosystem. It is said that tobacco farms absorb atmospheric carbon, but the eventual act of smoking adds it back into the environment in the form of air pollution through the smoke.
Nicotine is an addictive drug that is present in tobacco. The ‘nicotine kick’ is what essentially gets smokers addicted to the practice. Nicotine is also a potent insecticide, often categorized as one of the deadliest plant byproducts, especially in its raw form. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, Nicotine can affect the central nervous system in humans and cause severe damage over time.
Filters are a relatively new-age addition to cigarettes, conceptualized around the 1950s. These filters were invented as an attempt to reduce the likelihood of lung cancer in smokers. This theory has been often debunked and seen only as a marketing gimmick to reduce fear and boost cigarette sales the world over, by falsely deeming it safer.
Around 90-95% of cigarette filters are composed using cellulose acetate- A form of non-biodegradable plastic. When tossed into the environment as waste, cigarette butts can take up to 15 years to decompose! Even after they break down, these usually turn into microplastics. This is indeed a damaging hazard for our marine life and oceans.
● Cigarette wrappers:
Usually, the wrappers are made of either flax or linen fibre after treating them with a range of chemicals. This helps control the ‘burn rate’ of a cigarette, determining if your cigarette should last longer or for a shorter time period once lit. It is claimed that these wrappers also leech toxic chemicals into the environment and water streams.
This includes all add-ons such as flavorings, tar, chemicals, sweeteners, etc. When a cigarette is lit for smoking, these additives and tobacco mix together and emit thousands of chemicals into the environment including carbon monoxide, arsenic, ammonia, lead and more.
Arsenic is often used in rat poisoning and is highly toxic. Lead has also been found to hamper brain development and can also lead to cancer and other illnesses. On average, around 45 of the chemicals in cigarette smoke have been identified as carcinogens (aka cancer-causing agents).
It is claimed that each year, approximately 4.5 trillion discarded cigarette waste is added to the environment. Cigarette butts have been categorized as the largest form of plastic pollution in the world. Discarded cigarette waste also leaks toxic chemicals into our waterways. Several researchers and environmentalists have reportedly found lethal cigarette waste in dead fish, sea turtles, whales, dolphins, etc. It is also one of the most commonly found forms of waste on beaches and shores. Cigarette waste also adds nicotine, heavy metals and toxic chemicals into our ecosystem.
If you are a conscious smoker, you may be mindful of the way you dispose of a cigarette. But irrespective of whether you use a bin, or extinguish your smoke on the ground, it is still likely to end up polluting our landfills either way. Besides your cigarette waste, you must also be careful of how you dispose of the cigarette packets. Cigarette packets are made of paperboard and can usually be recycled with other paper waste after removing the top plastic covering. This layer of covering is made of cellophane and can also be added to your recycle bin with other plastic waste.
While giving up this harmful smoking habit is the ideal long-term goal, short-term solutions lie in responsible waste disposal and recycling efforts. At Code Effort, we have an all-India initiative to help manage this waste crisis effectively. We undertake several efforts to ensure that this waste is prevented from being discarded as a pollutant. Right from the filters to the paper coating and other components, all parts of your cigarette butt are treated with chemicals and upcycled to create toxin-free lifestyle products such as cushions, keychains, soft toys and more!
If you are a non-smoker but would love to be an anti-tobacco waste warrior, you can always volunteer to collect and send us cigarette waste from your society and/or offices as well.
To know more about how you can send your cigarette waste to us or simply for more information on our processes, you can explore and contact us through our social media pages: