A cigarette butt tossed on the ground may seem insignificant, but did you know that cigarette filters can take as long as 10 years to decompose?
The core of most cigarette filters (the part that looks like white cotton) is actually a form of plastic called cellulose acetate, and we all know how long it takes for plastic to decompose! But that isn't the worst of it.
Used cigarette filters are full of toxins known as tar, and those chemicals leach into the ground and waterways, damaging living organisms that contact them. Toxin-filled cigarette butts work their way into our waterways primarily through storm drains that dump into streams and lakes. In one laboratory study, the chemicals that leached from a single cigarette butt (soaked for 24 hours in a liter of water) released enough toxins to kill 50 percent of the saltwater and freshwater fish exposed to it for 96 hours. In addition, tiny bits of tobacco that are invariably left attached to cigarette filters carry more toxins than the filters do themselves.
The Town of Ashland's municipal lots of permeable pavers rely on good drainage between the pavers to direct stormwater to the bioretention area. Cigarette butts tossed on the ground in the parking lot can become trapped between the pavers, slowing drainage and making our award-winning lot less efficient at doing its job.
If you smoke a pack a day, then you produce 7,300 cigarette butts a year, which is enough to fill a 1-gallon jug and, if not properly disposed of, is enough to contaminate 14,600 gallons of water. A cigarette butt may seem like a little thing, but you can make a big difference to the waters that reach the Chesapeake Bay by disposing of them properly!