Timberlake: No butts about it: Don’t litter your cigarette stubs


Jonathan Krueger/Iowa State Daily

When it comes to littering, cigarette butts have become a large issue. Cigarette smokers are urged to properly dispose of their cigarette butts.

Ian Timberlake

When it comes to social freedoms in society, I’m fairly libertarian. People have the right to entertain themselves in any matter so long as it doesn’t interfere with the rights of others. Even though I have a disdain for cigarettes and don’t care to fill your ear with how they are bad, my friends know that I give them every freedom to smoke as the freedom they give me to tell them they shouldn’t.

Along with all other drugs, you have the right to smoke cigarettes (because laws don’t always define rights) but you don’t have the right to let it interfere with the health and wellbeing of another individual. This is why smoking indoors and in a lot of public places is illegal.

The often overlooked and possibly most invasive smoking pollutant is actually in the disposal of the cigarette. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 45.3 million American adults smoke, or nearly 20 percent of the population.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated in 1998 that roughly 470 billion cigarettes were consumed in America that previous year. This means that there were 470 billion cigarette butts to dispose of in a single year, in America, or 176.3 million pounds of cigarette butts. If you want to count the entire world, the global weight of cigarette butts is roughly 2.1 billion pounds caused by 5.6 trillion produced filtered cigarettes.

A near-gag sight to see would be what I’ve seen on a regular basis growing up in Chicago and its metropolitan area. Sitting at a stoplight waiting to get on interstates 88 or 90, the road curb was literally piled with cigarette butts like clumps of wet sand on a long beach.

If you’re a smoker yourself, how do you dispose of your cigarette butts? How many of them find the immediate ground their home?

You may think cigarette butts are harmless, small and even biodegradable. They are not. Depending on the environment, they can take decades to decompose, according to some accounts; some even say they never fully decompose because of the cellulose acetate in the filters.

The mentality that they are too small to make an impact is a horrific fallacy. Try piling a years worth of cigarette butts from the average smoker. That would be several thousand cigarette butts for the average smoker and tens of thousands for the chain smoker. That’s a big pile for only being one of the 45.3 million adult smokers in America.

The pollutants in these cigarette butts wash into the soil and specifically in the watersheds. They get into our water supply. Land and marine wildlife eat the cigarette butts and are killed. Young children often get ahold of cigarette butts when parents aren’t looking and have the baby urge to place it in their mouth. That’s not just the cigarette butt to worry about, nor a stranger’s germs, but also a choking hazard.

Some states are starting to tighten the reigns on littering. Specifically cigarette littering. A jaw-dropping 38 percent of all items littered consists of cigarette butts, according to a study by Keeping America Beautiful. In Illinois, if you are caught littering you get fined $1,500. By the third offense, you are fined $25,000 and sentenced to a minimum of one year in jail and no more than three years.

It is not difficult to dispose of your cigarette butts properly. If you are a smoker, please be mindful and especially try to get any other smoker friends to properly dispose of their cigarette butts. You can buy small foil packets specifically for containing cigarette butts. You can also use metal mint containers, aluminum foil or a small empty bottle of water if size isn’t an issue.

If there is absolutely no possible way to store your cigarette butts, it is still beyond easy to break or cut off any remaining tobacco and throw the cigarette butt in a trash bin, making sure there is no remaining ember that could ignite the contents of the can.

Cigarette butts are the single most littered item, more than paper or plastic combined. They are also among the most harmful for our environment and the most difficult to clean up. If you litter cigarette butts, know that I do judge you and do think you should be fined for the act. States need to bring down the hammer on littering, for the sake of cigarette butts. Better yet, the people who report and prove the littering of cigarette butts should receive a bounty in the form of the fine indicted on the litterer. Maybe that’ll curb the issue.