Cleaning the planet, one cigarette butt at a time

The plastic in cigarette butts is extremely damaging to the environment. Picture: Pexels

The plastic in cigarette butts is extremely damaging to the environment. Picture: Pexels

Published Feb 5, 2021


DURBAN - Cigarette butts are the new plastic straws and Adam van Wyngaarden is on a mission to clean up the planet, one butt - cigarette butt - at a time.

Van Wyngaarden, CEO of Smokey Treats, which produces the world’s first biodegradable cigarette and co-founder of Smokers Against Plastic, is heading up the call to educate South Africans on the long-term impact of plastic cigarette butts, which have zero health benefits and are the most littered items in the world.

He said with around 4.5 trillion cigarette butts being littered each year – or two million every minute - these are the biggest source of plastic pollution in the world.

“The bottom line? Cigarette butts pollute our oceans more than straws. It is the biggest contributor to the plastic pollution problem that we are currently facing.”

Van Wyngaarden explained in the past, cigarette companies have defended the use of plastic filters by stating that they were photo-degradable.

“However, this simply means that the sunlight will eventually break the plastic into tiny fibres over a period of two to 15 years. This is also known as micro-plastic, which is famous for ending up in the ocean and threatening the survival of marine life.

’’With 75% of smokers admitting to littering their butts, it comes as no surprise that micro-plastics are found in the stomachs of 30% of turtles and 70% of sea birds.”

He said not only were cigarette butts harmful to the environment, but cigarettes also contained toxic additives in the smoke.

“There are over 600 artificial additives sprayed onto the tobacco before it is rolled in chemically bleached cigarette paper. The additives and bleach leave behind toxic residue in the filter after smoking, which eventually leach out and further poisons the natural environment.”

Van Wyngaarden said cigarette packaging was no better as it was laminated in plastic and coated in metallic or synthetic ink. He said the cigarette industry was responsible for 4% of the world’s annual deforestation rate.

The best solution would be to stop smoking all together, but it is not always an easy habit to kick. “That being said, there are small, effective changes that can be made. The first being to avoid flicking cigarette butts on the floor and rather recycling them while another option is to consider changing to an eco-friendly alternative.”

Van Wyngaarden said in 2015, while studying at UCT, they discovered cigarettes were essentially made out of plastic and chemicals. He said the companies producing these products seemed to not care about the environment, or the health of their customers.

“This inspired us to create an alternative that would finally offer the 21st century smoker a cigarette that doesn’t destroy our environment. If you can’t give up smoking altogether, you can take comfort in the fact that there is at least a less damaging alternative out there.”


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