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For an Ocean free from cigarette butts 

Organized on May 31, World No Tobacco Day reminds us of the dangers of tobacco, both on our health and the environment. 

Cigarette butts littered on land end up polluting the sea. 

Every year, a staggering 4,500 billion cigarette butts are discarded on the ground worldwide. This seemingly innocent act carries severe consequences. Carried by wind or rain, cigarette butts find their way into sewers, waterways, and ultimately, the ocean. 

The issue of cigarette butt pollution extends beyond cities, as they are the most prevalent waste found on our shorelines during Ocean Initiatives clean-up efforts. Not only do they stand as the number one enemy of our beaches, but the waste generated by the tobacco industry also pollutes ecosystems throughout its lifecycle. 

Tobacco cultivation, which consumes approximately 200,000 hectares of land per year, contributes significantly to deforestation, resulting in far-reaching impacts on entire ecosystems. The World Health Organization (WHO) report highlights the environmental impacts of the tobacco industry, spanning from the cultivation of tobacco plants to production and waste. 

Cigarettes harbor a toxic chemical cocktail. 

A single cigarette butt can pollute up to 500 liters of water. Considering the quantity of cigarette butts collected during the Ocean Initiatives in 2021, it is equivalent to the water consumption of the Chinese population over one year being contaminated.


This extensive pollution has dire consequences for marine life, exposing it to a hazardous mix of chemical components. Cigarette filters present two major problems. Firstly, they contribute to plastic pollution since they are made of cellulose acetate, which degrades into micro and nano plastic particles upon contact with water. Secondly, they contribute to chemical pollution as the filter accumulates over 2,500 toxic substances, including arsenic, mercury, ammonia, lead, and nicotine, during the cigarette's consumption. When these cigarette butts reach the ocean, they release all these toxic chemicals, which have been found in 70% of seabirds. Consequently, INERIS classifies cigarette butts as dangerous waste due to their ecotoxic nature. 

Putting an end to cigarette butt pollution. 

Confronted with this pollution, it is crucial never to discard cigarette butts on the ground. Instead, we must ensure that they are properly disposed of in a trash can or a portable pocket ashtray. 

It is important to remember that in many countries, littering is punishable by law, and authorities impose fines for discarding cigarette butts on the ground. 

In France, efforts to reduce the presence of cigarette butts in public spaces are underway through the anti-waste law for a circular economy (AGEC). This law holds cigarette manufacturers responsible for their waste and mandates a separate collection system for cigarette butts. In accordance with the "polluter pays" principle, the tobacco industry is required to contribute financially to an eco-organization responsible for the collection and treatment of cigarette butts. Furthermore, street ashtrays and communication campaigns will be implemented in public spaces. 

While progress has been made, there is still much to be done to combat tobacco pollution throughout its entire lifecycle. 

The first step in protecting the ocean and our health is to responsibly dispose of cigarette butts in the trash, rather than on the ground. By handing out pocket ashtrays at beach bars and Ocean Friendly Restaurants (OFR) we offer a clean and cool solution to dispose of cigarette butts.  

Disposing in this manner and by having communication around the beach bars we create awareness of the problem.  

Next step is to have pocket ashtrays and the awareness campaign all along the Dutch coast and grow the movement to ban smoking from the beach and never see butts on the beach! 


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