Minister Pow has summoned the major players in the industry focusing her fire on the Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association and cigarette giants Philip Morris and Japan Tobacco International, which owns the Silk Cut, Camel and Benson & Hedges brands. “If we cannot progress this discussion… we will have to reflect on what steps the Government can take to ensure the tobacco industry takes increasing responsibility for the litter its products create,” she said in a letter addressed to the tobacco firms.
Data indicate that over five trillion butts are generated by smokers each year worldwide. Sadly, many of these tend to pile up in parks, beaches, streets and bus stops, as they are small enough to appear more harmless than the more visible type of rubbish, and are therefore more likely to be disposed of inappropriately.
Cigarette butts disrupt ecosystems
“Many smokers think cigarette butts quickly biodegrade and therefore don’t really consider them as a litter. In reality, the filter is made out of a type of bioplastic that can take years, if not decades to break down.”
A 2019 study published in Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety had indicated how cigarette butts can disrupt an ecosystem. Titled, “Cigarette butts have adverse effects on initial growth of perennial ryegrass (gramineae: Lolium perenne L.) and white clover (leguminosae: Trifolium repens L.)” this research had found that the presence of cigarette butts in the soil harms certain plants.
“Despite being a common sight littering streets and parks worldwide, our study is the first to show the impact of cigarette butts on plants,” said lead author Dannielle Green, Ph.D. “Many smokers think cigarette butts quickly biodegrade and therefore don’t really consider them as a litter. In reality, the filter is made out of a type of bioplastic that can take years, if not decades to break down.”
JTI has contributed a meager £150,000 towards cigarette litter clean-up costs and the other major tobacco firms have contributed nothing at all.
Five years ago, the tobacco industry had promised to intensify its efforts to clear the waste, but since then only JTI has contributed a meager £150,000 towards the clean-up costs. Keep Britain Tidy has pointed out that the other major firms and the TMA have contributed nothing towards these efforts.
“It’s time for the tobacco industry to step up to the challenge of ridding our environment of the millions of discarded butts that litter our streets, parks and beaches, pollute our watercourses and oceans and add to the toxic plastic soup that is choking our marine environment,” said Richard McIlwain, deputy chief executive of Keep Britain Tidy.
“Warm words and empty promises are not enough. We need them to take responsibility for the products they put on the market and educate their customers about doing the right thing with their butts once they have finished with them. We know that many smokers don’t even consider their butts to be litter so there is a lot of work to do if we are to rid our environment of this menace,” he added.
Tobacco association to launch anti-littering campaign
In response to the warning, a spokesman for the Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association said that the industry takes its environmental responsibilities “very seriously”. “This autumn, the TMA will be implementing a campaign on raising awareness among consumers about the need to reduce littering and ensuring people are aware of their personal responsibility to dispose of butts appropriately when smoking outside their homes.”
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