EcoWaste Coalition Seeks Regulatory Action vs. Cigarette Butt Waste

A waste and pollution watchdog today called upon the government, particularly the environment and health departments, to craft an urgent regulatory policy that will ensure the proper management of cigarette butts or filters as toxic waste.

The EcoWaste Coalition, a member group of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Alliance, Philippines (FCAP), stressed that such a policy is warranted given the known toxicity of cigarette filters and the huge number of butts generated and discarded in the local and global environment.

“Cigarette butt waste is the most visible toxic garbage that we could find in our surroundings. Smokers litter butts on the streets, storm drains and even on beaches and parks, or throw them with regular discards for disposal at dumpsites or landfills oblivious of the fact that each butt poses a toxic threat to human and animal health and the environment,” said Roy Alvarez, President, EcoWaste Coalition.

Such policy on cigarette butt waste should embrace the precautionary principle (which says “environmental harm does not have to be proven to justify preventing potential exposures”) and extended producer responsibility (which, among others, states “those who produce a toxic waste product should be held accountable for its cleanup”), the EcoWaste Coalition stated.

For her part, Dr. Maricar Limpin, FCAP Executive Director, said: “We need to stop this notorious environmental pollutant from its source. The most effective way to curb this ubiquitous litter problem is, of course, for smokers to choose health over tobacco addiction and to quit smoking.”

The EcoWaste Coalition emphasized that cigarette butts contain numerous hazardous chemicals, including cancer-causing substances, justifying their categorization as toxic waste requiring environmentally-sound management and disposal.

Citing a paper from “Tobacco Control,” an international peer-reviewed journal for health professionals and others in tobacco control, the EcoWaste Coalition reiterated that “filters degrade very slowly and thus become an accumulating mass of potentially toxic waste.”

Richard Barnes of the California-based Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, in his paper said that “the trillions of cigarette butts generated each year throughout the world pose a significant challenge for disposal regulations, primarily because there are millions of points of disposal, along with the necessity to segregate, collect and dispose of the butts in a safe manner, and cigarette butts are toxic, hazardous waste.”

“Toxic substances are leached from the filter and tobacco residue that pollute waterways, and probably pollute ground water near landfills that are not properly constructed to contain such leachates,” he said, adding that “aquatic life may be harmed by the toxic leachates, and the butts may cause physical harm when ingested by animals,” he explained.

Barnes also pointed out butts collect in municipal storm drains and then may empty into waterways, and can clog storm drains and sanitary sewer systems.

The economic and administrative burdens of cigarette butt waste should be taken off state and local government agencies and taxpayers, according to Barnes.

Following the principles of product stewardship and extended product responsibility, Barnes stressed that tobacco manufacturers should shoulder the entire financial burden for the collection, transportation and safe disposal of cigarette butt waste.

According to the Ocean Conservancy’s marine debris report for 2011, some 52,907,756 cigarettes/cigarette filters out of the total debris items of 166,144,420 were collected during the last 25 years of the annual coastal cleanup activities worldwide

The Ocean Conservancy also reported collecting 56,376 cigarettes/cigarette filters out of the total debris items of 763,262 collected in the Philippines in 2010.