The health risks of tobacco consumption are well established, but there is less awareness of the global environmental impacts of smoking. The by-products of the 6.3 trillion cigarettes smoked annually are filters (butts) that contain benzene, nicotine, cadmium, and dozens of other chemicals. It is estimated that between one- and two-thirds of all filters are discarded on roads, pavements, and green spaces. Butt litter as an environmental and public health hazard is a relatively new field of study, but recent research and findings have clear global implications. While this article focuses specifically on the situation in Australia, where cigarette butts are consistently the most littered item identified in national clean-up campaigns, the material reviewed has clear international environmental implications. The article first reviews existing literature on filter composition and toxicology, clean-up costs, regulatory response, and key policy actors. It then describes the scale of the butt litter problem in Australia using existing data, and analyses potential remedies at both the domestic and international levels.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
Australian Bureau of Statistics. 2006. Year Book Australia, 2004: Bushfires. http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/0/ccb3f2e90ba779d3ca256dea00053977. Retrieved 22 July 2016.
Australian Bureau of Statistics. 2015. National Health Survey: First Results, 2014–2015. http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/4364.0.55.001. Retrieved 22 July 2016.
Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. 2016. Product Safety Australia. https://www.productsafety.gov.au/. Retrieved 19 Aug 2016.
Australian Government, Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts. 2009. Background paper for the threat abatement plan for the impacts of marine debris on vertebrate marine life. http://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/resources/d945695b-a3b9-4010-91b4-914efcdbae2f/files/marine-debris-background-paper.pdf. Retrieved 14 July 2016.
Australian Manufacturing. 2014. Terracycle: Australia has already joined the Cigarette Waste Brigade. http://www.australianmanufacturing.com.au/20221/terracycle-australia-keeps-one-million-cigarette-butts-streets. Retrieved 14 Aug 2016.
Australian Packaging Covenant. 2011. Australian Packaging Covenant: A commitment by governments and industry to the sustainable design, use and recovery of packaging. http://www.packagingcovenant.org.au/data/Resources/Aust_Packaging_Covenant_amended_10_October_2011.pdf. Retrieved 4 July 2016.
Ballotpedia. 2010. California Proposition 26, Supermajority Vote to Pass New Taxes and Fees (2010). http://ballotpedia.org/California_Proposition_26,_Supermajority_Vote_to_Pass_New_Taxes_and_Fees_(2010). Retrieved 21 June 2016.
Barnes, R.L. 2011. Regulating the disposal of cigarette butts as toxic hazardous waste. Tobacco Control 20: i45–i48. doi:10.1136/tc.2010.041301.
BeachPatrol. 2016. Cigarette Butt Litter Surveys. http://www.beachpatrol.com.au/Cigarette-Litter. Retrieved 8 Aug 2016.
Beavis, L. 2011. British American Tobacco—Collaborative effort sees more responsible growing. The Guardian 26 May. https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/collaborative-effort-more-responsible-growing. Retrieved 15 Aug 2016.
Blanke, D.D. 2002. Towards Health with Justice: Litigation and public inquiries as tools for tobacco control. Geneva: World Health Organization.
Booth, D.J., P. Gribben, and K. Parkinson. 2015. Impact of cigarette butt leachate on tidepool snails. Marine Pollution Bulletin 95: 362–364. doi:10.1016/j.marpolbul.2015.04.004.
British American Tobacco Australia. 2012. Submission on the packaging impacts consultation regulation impact statement (PICRIS). Submission to the Standing Council on Environment and Water. Retrieved 2 July, 2016, from http://www.scew.gov.au/system/files/submissions/08131a3d-e461-32e4-ed8d-f151695d5a86/123-british-american-tobacco-aust.pdf.
British American Tobacco Australia. 2015. Annual report to the Australian Packaging Covenant. http://www.packagingcovenant.org.au/data/AnnualReports2015/British%20American%20Tobacco%20Australia_AR_2015.pdf. Retrieved 2 July 2016.
British American Tobacco Biodiversity Partnership. 2011. Progress report. http://www.fauna-flora.org/wp-content/uploads/BAT_Biodiversity_Report.pdf. Retrieved 15 Aug 2016.
Brooks, D.R., J.H.M. Austin, R.T. Heelan, M.S. Ginsberg, V. Shin, S.H. Olson, J.E. Muscat, and S.D. Stellman. 2005. Influence of type of cigarette on peripheral versus central lung cancer. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention 14: 576–581. doi:10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-04-0468.
Butt Free Australia. 2016. About Butt free Australia. http://www.notagoodlook.com.au/about-butt-free-australia/. Retrieved 12 July 2016.
California State Assembly Democratic Caucus. 2014. Stone introduces bill to ban cigarette butts. http://asmdc.org/members/a29/news-room/press-releases/stone-introduces-bill-to-ban-cigarette-butts. Retrieved 1 Aug 2016.
Chapman, S. 2006. Butt clean up campaigns: wolves in sheep’s clothing? Tobacco Control 15: 273. doi:10.1136/tc.2006.017590.
Chapman, S. 2016. Ten more myths about smoking that will not die. The Conversation, 17 March. https://theconversation.com/ten-more-myths-about-smoking-that-will-not-die-56419. Retrieved 1 Aug 2016.
City of Sydney. 2016. Cigarette butts: yuk. http://www.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/live/waste-and-recycling/clean-streets/yuk-cigarette-butts. Retrieved 19 Aug 2016.
Clean Up Australia. 2015. Cigarette butts fact sheet. http://www.cleanup.org.au/files/clean_up_australia_cigarette_butts_factsheet.pdf. Retrieved 12 June 2016.
Clean Up Australia. 2016. Butt recycling campaign shut down by the tobacco industry. http://www.cleanup.org.au/au/Whatelsewesupport/recycling-cigarette-butts.html. Retrieved 14 June 2016.
Curtis, C., S. Collins, S. Cunningham, P. Stigler, and T.E. Novotny. 2014. Extended producer responsibility and product stewardship for tobacco product waste. International Journal of Waste Resources 4: 157. doi:10.4172/2252-5211.1000157.
Earthwatch. 2016. Partner profile: British American Tobacco (BAT). http://au.earthwatch.org/corporate-partnerships/partnership-profiles/british-american-tobacco-bat. Retrieved 15 Aug 2016.
Fooks, G.J., and A.B. Gilmore. 2013. Corporate philanthropy, political influence, and health policy. PLoS ONE 8: e80864. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0080864.
Freiberg, M. 2014. (Don’t) see more butts: Preemption and local regulation of cigarette litter. Hamline Law Review 37(1): 205–228. http://digitalcommons.hamline.edu/hlr/vol37/iss1/6.
Hall Jr., J.R. 2013. The Smoking-Material Fire Problem. National Fire Protection Association. http://www.nfpa.org/news-and-research/fire-statistics-and-reports/fire-statistics/fire-causes/smoking-materials. Retrieved 16 June 2016.
Healton, C.G., K.M. Cummings, R.J. O’Connor, and T.E. Novotny. 2011. Butt really? The environmental impact of cigarettes. Tobacco Control 20: i1. doi:10.1136/tc.2011.043729.
Imperial Tobacco Australia. 2015. Annual report to the Australian Packaging Covenant. http://www.packagingcovenant.org.au/data/AnnualReports2015/Imperial%20Tobacco%20Australia%20Limited_AR_2015.pdf. Retrieved 12 June 2016.
Ito, H., K. Matsuo, H. Tanaka, D.C. Koestler, H. Ombao, J. Fulton, A. Shibata, M. Fujita, et al. 2011. Nonfilter and filter cigarette consumption and the incidence of lung cancer by histological type in Japan and the United States: Analysis of 30-year data from population-based cancer registries. International Journal of Cancer 128: 1918–1928. doi:10.1002/ijc.25531.
Javadian, S., P. Stigler-Granados, C. Curtis, F. Thompson, L. Huber, and T.E. Novotny. 2015. Perspectives on tobacco product waste: A survey of Framework Convention Alliance members’ knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 12: 9683–9691. doi:10.3390/ijerph120809683.
Jha, P. 2009. Avoidable global cancer deaths and total deaths from smoking. Nature Reviews Cancer 9: 655–664. doi:10.1038/nrc2703.
Keep America Beautiful. 2010. Litter in America: Results from the nation’s largest litter study. https://www.kab.org/sites/default/files/News%26Info_Research_LitterinAmerica_FactSheet_CostsofLittering.pdf. Retrieved 14 June 2016.
Keep Australia Beautiful. 2015. National Litter Index. Annual Report: 2014/2015. http://kab.org.au/litter-research/national-litter-index/. Retrieved 14 June 2016.
Keep South Australia Beautiful [KESAB environmental solutions]. 2015a. Annual Report 2014/2015. http://www.kesab.asn.au/wp-content/uploads/annual-reports/KESAB-Annual-Report-2014-2015.pdf. Retrieved 18 June 2016.
Keep South Australia Beautiful [KESAB environmental solutions]. 2015b. Response to Green Industries SA Consultation Paper. http://www.zerowaste.sa.gov.au/upload/green-industries-sa/green-industries-sa-consultation-responses/999%20KESAB.pdf. Retrieved 18 June 2016.
Kozlowski, L.T., and R.J. O’Connor. 2002. Cigarette filter ventilation is a defective design because of misleading taste, bigger puffs, and blocked vents. Tobacco Control 11: i40–i50. doi:10.1136/tc.11.suppl_1.i40.
Lee, W., and C.C. Lee. 2015. Developmental toxicity of cigarette butts—An underdeveloped issue. Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety 113: 362–368. doi:10.1016/j.ecoenv.2014.12.018.
Lindhqvist, T. 2000. Extended producer responsibility in cleaner production: Policy principle to promote environmental improvements of product systems. Doctoral Thesis, Lund University, Sweden. http://lup.lub.lu.se/luur/download?func=downloadFile&recordOId=19692&fileOId=1002025. Retrieved 4 June 2016.
MacKenzie, R., and C. Holden. 2016. Analysing corporate documents. In Researching corporations and global health governance: An interdisciplinary guide, ed. K. Lee, and B. Hawkins. London: Rowman & Littlefield.
Mathers, C.D., and D. Loncar. 2006. Projections of global mortality and burden of disease from 2002 to 2030. PLoS Medicine 3: e442. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0030442.
McDaniel, P.A., and R.E. Malone. 2012. British American Tobacco’s partnership with Earthwatch Europe and its implications for public health. Global Public Health 7: 14–28. doi:10.1080/17441692.2010.549832.
Micevska, T., M.S.J. Warne, F. Pablo, and R. Patra. 2006. Variation in, and causes of, toxicity of cigarette butts to a cladoceran and Microtox. Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology 50: 205–212. doi:10.1007/s00244-004-0132-y.
Moerman, J.W., and G.E. Potts. 2011. Analysis of metals leached from smoked cigarette litter. Tobacco Control 20: i30–i35. doi:10.1136/tc.2010.040196.
Moriwaki, H., S. Kitajima, and K. Katahira. 2009. Waste on the roadside, ‘poi-sute’ waste: Its distribution and elution potential of pollutants into environment. Waste Management 29: 1192–1197. doi:10.1016/j.wasman.2008.08.017.
New South Wales, Department of Environment and Conservation. 2006. NSW Extended Producer Responsibility Priority Statement 2005–2006. http://epa.nsw.gov.au/resources/waste/050624-epr-priority-0506.pdf. Retrieved 23 Aug 2016.
New South Wales, Environment Protection Authority. 2015. Product stewardship schemes. http://www.epa.nsw.gov.au/wastestrategy/stewardship-schemes.htm. Retrieved 23 Aug 2016.
Novotny, T. 2013. Tobacco product waste reduction toolkit. California Department of Public Health, California Tobacco Control Program. Sacramento. https://www.cdph.ca.gov/programs/tobacco/Documents/CDPH%20CTCP%20Refresh/Community/Toolkits%20and%20Manuals/Tobacco_Product_Waste_Reduction_Toolkit.pdf. Retrieved 27 Oct 2016.
Novotny, T.E., and E. Slaughter. 2014. Tobacco product waste: An environmental approach to reduce tobacco consumption. Current Environmental Health Reports 1: 208–216. doi:10.1007/s40572-014-0016-x.
Novotny, T.E., and F. Zhao. 1999. Consumption and production waste: Another externality of tobacco use. Tobacco Control 8: 75–80. doi:10.1136/tc.8.1.75.
Novotny, T.E., K. Lum, E. Smith, V. Wang, and R. Barnes. 2009. Cigarettes butts and the case for an environmental policy on hazardous cigarette waste. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 6: 1691–1705. doi:10.3390/ijerph6051691.
Novotny, T.E., S. Aguinaga Bialous, L. Burt, C. Curtis, V. Luiza da Costa, S. Usman Iqtidar, Y. Liu, S. Pujari, et al. 2015. The environmental and health impacts of tobacco agriculture, cigarette manufacture and consumption. Bulletin of the World Health Organization 93: 877–880. doi:10.2471/BLT.15.152744.
Öberg, M., A. Woodward, M.S. Jaakkola, A. Peruga, and A. Prüss-Ustün. 2010. Global estimate of the burden of disease from second-hand smoke. Geneva: World Health Organization. http://www.who.int/tobacco/publications/second_hand/global_estimate_burden_disease/en/. Retrieved 5 Aug 2016.
Ocean Conservancy. 2015. International coastal cleanup: 2015 Report. http://www.oceanconservancy.org/our-work/marine-debris/2015-data-release/2015-data-release-pdf.pdf. Retrieved 11 June 2016.
Palazzo, G., and U. Richter. 2005. CSR business as usual? The case of the tobacco industry. Journal of Business Ethics 61: 387–401. doi:10.1007/s10551-005-7444-3.
Philip Morris Limited. 2010. Australian Packaging Covenant Action Plan July 2010–June 2015. http://www.packagingcovenant.org.au/data/ActionPlans/Philip%20Morris%20Limited_AP.pdf. Retrieved 17 June 2016.
Philip Morris Limited. 2015. Annual report to the Australian Packaging Covenant. http://www.packagingcovenant.org.au/data/AnnualReports2015/Philip%20Morris%20Limited_AR_2015.pdf. Retrieved 11 June 2016.
Proctor, R.N. 2012. Golden holocaust: Origins of the cigarette catastrophe and the case for abolition. Oakland: University of California Press.
Rath, J.M., R.A. Rubenstein, L.E. Curry, S.E. Shank, and J.C. Cartwright. 2012. Cigarette litter: Smokers’ attitudes and behaviors. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 9: 2189–2203. doi:10.3390/ijerph9062189.
Register, K.M. 2000. Cigarette butts as litter—Toxic as well as ugly. Underwater Naturalist 25. http://www.longwood.edu/cleanva/ciglitterarticle.htm. Retrieved 25 July 2016.
Roder Green, A.L., A. Putschew, and T. Nehls. 2014. Littered cigarette butts as a source of nicotine in urban waters. Journal of Hydrology 519: 3466–3474. doi:10.1016/j.jhydrol.2014.05.046.
Schneider, J.E., N.A. Peterson, N. Kiss, O. Ebeid, and A.S. Doyle. 2011. Tobacco litter costs and public policy: A framework and methodology for considering the use of fees to offset abatement costs. Tobacco Control 20: i36–i41. doi:10.1136/tc.2010.041707.
Scollo, M.M., and M.H. Winstanley. 2015. Tobacco in Australia: Facts and issues. Melbourne: Cancer Council Victoria. www.TobaccoInAustralia.org.au. Retrieved 2 June 2016.
Slaughter, E., R.M. Gersberg, K. Watanabe, J. Rudolph, C. Stransky, and T.E. Novotny. 2011. Toxicity of cigarette butts, and their chemical components, to marine and freshwater fish. Tobacco Control 20: i25–i29. doi:10.1136/tc.2010.040170.
Smith, E.A., and P.A. McDaniel. 2011. Covering their butts: Responses to the cigarette litter problem. Tobacco Control 20: 100–106. doi:10.1136/tc.2010.036491.
Smith, E.A., and T.E. Novotny. 2011. Whose butt is it? Tobacco industry research about smokers and cigarette butt waste. Tobacco Control 20: i2–i9. doi:10.1136/tc.2010.040105.
Stratton, K., P. Shetty, R. Wallace, and S. Bondurant (eds.). 2001. Clearing the smoke: Assessing the science base for tobacco harm reduction. Washington: National Academy Press.
Terracycle. 2014. Cigarette waste is now recyclable in Australia. http://journalists.medianet.com.au/DisplayAttachment.aspx?j=796561&s=2&k=9948754. Retrieved 19 July 2016.
United States Department of Health and Human Services. 2010. How tobacco smoke causes disease: The biology and behavioral basis for smoking-attributable disease: A report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta: US DHHS, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health.
United States Environmental Protection Agency. 2016. Toxic and priority pollutants under the Clean Water Act. https://www.epa.gov/eg/toxic-and-priority-pollutants-under-clean-water-act. Retrieved 5 Aug 2016.
United States Fire Administration. 2016. Data, publications and library. https://www.usfa.fema.gov/data/. Retrieved 5 Aug 2016.
University of California, San Francisco. Library. 2016. Tobacco industry documents. https://industrydocuments.library.ucsf.edu/tobacco/. Retrieved 6 Aug 2016.
Warner, K.E. 2002. Tobacco harm reduction: Promise and perils. Nicotine & Tobacco Research 4: S61–S71. doi:10.1080/1462220021000032825.
Witkowski, J. 2014. Holding cigarette manufacturers and smokers liable for toxic butts: Potential litigation-related causes of action for environmental injuries/harm and waste cleanup. Tulane Environmental Law Journal 28: 1–36.
World Health Organization. Tobacco Free Initiative. 2003. Tobacco industry and corporate responsibility…an inherent contradiction. Geneva: WHO.
World Health Organization. 2016. International Programme on Chemical Safety: Ten chemicals of major public health concern. http://www.who.int/ipcs/assessment/public_health/chemicals_phc/en/. Retrieved 28 June 2016.
This work was supported by the National Cancer Institute, US National Institutes of Health, Grant R01-CA091021 (RJM).
About this article
Cite this article
Wallbank, L.A., MacKenzie, R. & Beggs, P.J. Environmental impacts of tobacco product waste: International and Australian policy responses. Ambio 46, 361–370 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13280-016-0851-0
- Cigarette butt litter
- Environmental organisations
- Policy response
- Tobacco industry