Photo: Butt out for the planet

A cigarette in action, before it becomes litter (Credit: George Eastman House via Flickr)

Flicked out of car windows, stomped out on sidewalks and strewn about our parks and beaches — several trillion cigarette butts are littered worldwide each year. If you smoke, there's a new reason to quit. Butt out for the planet.

Often overshadowed by the more annoying side effect of smoking — second-hand fumes — cigarette butt litter receives little attention until this time of year.


It's September and that means the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup is well underway! Did you know that in 2009, Canadians picked up more than 367,000 cigarette butts during this annual event? Cigarette butts made one of the top five litter items list, next to plastic bags, food wrappers, caps and lids, and cutlery and dishes.

Litter in general has obvious negative impacts on the environment and cigarette butts are no exception. They've been discovered in the stomachs of sea turtles, birds and dolphins, and they do not biodegrade.

And I'm not just another cranky non-smoker, even Philip Morris USA, the largest producer of cigarettes recognizes that cigarette butt litter is a huge contributor to garbage in our environment. They plan on "educating smokers that cigarettes are litter that should be disposed of properly."

But is more education the real missing link? Why do we litter at all? Is it a lack of respect, laziness, or some anti-conformist attitude?

I'm not here to beg you to quit. Just put trash in the trash, including cigarette butts. It's that simple. As for non-smokers (about 83 per cent of the Canadian population) you're not off the hook. I bet you walk by litter many times each day. It's time to stop passing the buck. Fight that whiny voice in your head that's saying "I didn't put it there!" or "It's not mine!" That attitude gets us nowhere. Last time I checked there's one planet and you're on it!

Smoker or not, join your fellow Canadians and head down to a local shoreline this week. Picking up litter is a really easy step to a healthier planet — take the family, or grab your co-workers. Check out the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup and join a cleanup near you between now and this Sunday, September 26th!

Lindsay Coulter, Queen of Green

September 22, 2010

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Oct 07, 2010
1:58 AM

Gotta hate those butts I’ve been smoking for 20 years never have I littered my butts!

Oct 02, 2010
6:18 AM

Hey to all. I’m a smoker and ya it’s a sick habbit. But to get straight to the point and i’m sure many nonsmokers will agree. Stop spending millions of dollars on ( no smoking laws ) And why don’t all you differant organizations go right after the problem and start shutting down the tobacco companies and fight to make smoking against the law. And i meen any kind of smoking. No more chipping away at it slowly and just crush the tobacco industry in one blow. Use the chipping money on health care and other stuff.

Sep 27, 2010
1:21 PM

I’ve been picking the litter in the park across where I live every day long before the last garbage strike, with the ‘hope’ it would ‘catch on’. All I get is the occasional ‘thank you’. In the park is a sign that states there is a $2000 fine for littering. I doubt if it has ever been enforced. If the sign were to say $2000 REWARD to report the litter bugs, I’m sure more people would take heed and Not litter for fear of being reported. Another thought was $2000 Reward for picking up the most garbage. Every one may be out picking up garbage then. We need a Reward system rather than a Punishment or Fine system

Sep 24, 2010
7:57 AM

Rather than education (this seems to be a little lost on smokers anyway) can the cigarette companies not be held accountable for the waste that their products produce? In this day and age, I’m sure there must be a biodegradable cigarette butt option and with government force, the producers would have no choice but to make it work.

I really believe however that smokers just don’t care. They don’t care about the people that have to walk past and breathe it in. They don’t care about having to stand out in the cold to smoke. And they really don’t care about where their cigarette butt goes after they’re done.

In the Toronto 20 minute make over around our office in Etobicoke, 95% of the garbage I collected was cigarette butts.


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