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What can we do about our cigarette waste problem?

Image credit: https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/plastic-straw-ban-cigarette-butts-are-single-greatest-source-ocean-n903661

Spook Louw
Spook Louw May 06, 2021
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6 Trillion cigarettes are sold worldwide each year, of those, a shocking 75%, or 4.5 trillion gets discarded improperly. This puts cigarettes at the top of the list of the most littered items in the world and to make it all worse, they are non-biodegradable, taking up to 10 years to decompose.

The problems caused by cigarette butts are evident, yet we simply can't seem to get smokers to stop littering. Cleaning programs cost governments, municipalities, environmental organizations and businesses billions of dollars each year while the plastic that does not get cleaned up adds strain to an already choking ecosystem.

A number of solutions have been suggested thus far:
  1. Simply banning the filters. There has been no proof that the filters provide any health benefit to smoking, contrarily, all it seems to achieve is making smoking less harsh, therefore promoting more smoking. This has been attempted without any success around the world.
  2. TerraCycle has a program where you can ship your recycled cigarette butts to them for free using printable stamps, they then donate a specified amount to charity for every pound of cigarettes recycled. This has been successful to a certain degree, but not enough to even make a dent in the cigarette waste problem of the world.
  3. Changing the material of the filters seems like an obvious solution, companies like Greenbutts have been working on viable, biodegradable alternatives, but this has also not caught on, presumable it alters the taste of the cigarettes, or it is too expensive to make, making it unattractive to cigarette manufacturers.
  4. Fumo has come up with a more creative approach to get people to dispose of their cigarette butts properly, they claim to be having some success but considering the scope of the problem, I believe the novelty will wear off fast.
  5. Another solution that seems obvious, but has not been able to get off the ground despite numerous efforts around the world, is a deposit law, similar to bottle deposits. In essence, consumers would pay a specified amount deposit on every pack they buy, this would encourage them to return all the cigarette butts from that pack, in order to receive their deposit back, while at the same time funding cleanup programs from the unclaimed deposits.

Otherwise, we could think of ways to make ideas like the one proposed by Fumo more efficient and sustainable.

How would you approach the problem?







Creative contributions

Reusable filters with each pack of filterless cigarettes

Spook Louw
Spook Louw May 06, 2021
One idea I had is to create high-quality reusable filters which can be attached to filterless cigarettes. In that way, waste per pack could be reduced from 20 filters to 1. Every pack of filterless cigarettes could come with a filter attached, this would prevent people from buying normal cigarettes simply because they don't have their filter with them at the time.
In order to do this, however, the filterless cigarettes would either have to be marketed extremely well or be cheaper than normal cigarettes.

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Recycle or stop smoking

Povilas S
Povilas S May 10, 2021
I was thinking that maybe this could be turned (at least partially) into a smoking prevention campaign. Taking care of cigarette butts the proper way could be made mandatory and then the consumer would be left with the choice to either put efforts into that or smoke something that doesn't produce leftovers or best - stop smoking altogether.

Cigarette smokers are already being pressed more and more in the corner by different means - one is various e-cigarettes that are getting more and more popular, another is stricter regulations to put clear warning signs and (recently in some countries) nasty images showing various smoking-related pathologies on cigarette packages. Also, the cost of cigarettes compared to liquid-based e-cigarettes or rolling tobacco is many times higher. IQOS heets are a bad alternative in this context because they also have filters and usually people smoke a few times more of them compared to cigarettes, while their cost is close to ordinary cigarettes.

So putting another regulation for old-school cigarette smokers would contribute to pushing those cigarettes out of the market altogether. The difficult part is - how to make smokers obey such a regulation? For starters, fines could be given for throwing cigarette butts anywhere else than in a proper rubbish bin. Whenever a law enforcement official sees such an act, they could charge the person with a solid amount for a single butt. Ordinary cigarette butts have a nasty smell if kept somewhere in a pocket, a car, etc., so people don't like to collect them for throwing away later either.

But even better would be to make special collecting points exclusively for cigarette butts (and make them sparse;)) and allow smokers to throw them only there. Without mixing with the rest of the rubbish maybe they could be properly recycled (if they can be properly recycled at all) afterwards. Even better option would be to make sure that the filter from each cigarette that was bought will end up in a dedicated collecting point. This can be achieved by keeping track of each filter cigarette product that a certain person buys.

A person buying those products would need to show an ID (or a special separate card for this could be made), the seller would scan it and a record under that person's name/ID number would keep track of how many filters he/she has to present to the collecting point - one pack of cigarettes = 20 filters, etc. When coming to discard the leftovers, a person would again scan the card in an automatic collecting point and then start throwing the butts. The machine would count and adjust the record. At the end of the year (or whatever time period) the numbers would be summed up and a certain amount of money for each butt failed to properly discard would be charged.

Make it one such collecting point per town and a big sum of money for each missed butt and you won't have a filter waste problem anymore :)
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Spook Louw
Spook Louw3 years ago
You make some solid points, I think a lot of places already have a fine for people littering, that doesn't seem to deter them though.

I also don't see us getting rid of smoking completely, South Africa is actually the perfect example of this, during the lockdown in 2020 there was a period of a couple of months where all tobacco and alcohol sales were prohibited, "About 9% of pre-lockdown smokers in the sample successfully quit smoking. 93% of continuing smokers purchased cigarettes despite the sales ban. The average price of cigarettes increased by 250% relative to pre-lockdown prices. Most respondents purchased cigarettes through informal channels." - https://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/early/2021/01/20/tobaccocontrol-2020-056209

Separating cigarette butts from the rest of the trash could help a lot, the only way there can be that many ill-disposed butts every year is if the waste management facilities or landfills don't dispose of them properly, it can't all be from littering. I think having designated places for cigarette butts could definitely help with that!

Fining people for every filter they don't return could work well too, the only problem I could imagine with that is the sheer volumes, it would need to be a huge database keeping track of everything and it could be a real hassle on a night out to keep 40 filters in your pocket so you can later dispose of them, or even giving a cigarette to someone else and having to follow them around to make sure that you get your filter back.
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Povilas S
Povilas S3 years ago
Spook Louw Yes, giving fines for throwing the filters on the ground could be only the first step, - since the buts are so tiny they are much easier to disregard as something minute in comparison to rubbish in general. I think that's one of the reasons people tend to throw them anywhere. It also attracts less attention than when you're throwing say a plastic bottle or a banana peel. So I think a separate fine for cigarette buts exclusively would be useful. Especially if it was high for a single but.

I'm not aiming at preventing people from smoking entirely, just to eliminate the filter waste problem. The latter comes mostly from cigarettes and other tobacco products with filters. Since cigarettes seem to be getting out of fashion anyway and various smoking alternatives are becoming more frequent, this favorable time could be used to promote filterless alternatives (like e-cigarettes or rolling tobacco with biodegradable paper filters) while pressing hard on those that still use filters that are non-eco-friendly. This would on one hand press the users to discard the filters properly while on the other encourage the producers to use only biodegradable filters (in order not to lose the customers for competitor alternatives).

The hard part of keeping track of your filters to discard is kind of the point - the harder it is for the customer to keep using the product the more likely they are to choose a hassle-free alternative or even consider stop smoking entirely. If you gave a cigarette to someone else then you could find a but on the ground and discard that one instead of the lost one. Maybe the system could even give you a cashback for additional buts you were not supposed to deliver:)
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General comments

Darjan Hren
Darjan Hren3 years ago
I remember you could burn one side of the filer and then step on it so one side becomes flat. Once cooled off, you could actually cut something with it.

This may bring another solution to your list as if you could have machines transform it into something useful or decorative.
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