Healthy Oceans Blog

Why cigarette butts are the next plastic straw – solving the world’s biggest littering problem

Bans on plastic straws have inspired a worldwide war against plastic pollution in our oceans.

The next battle to fight is cleaning the most-littered item on beaches around the Planet: cigarette butts.

Cigarette butts are actually a form of plastic pollution that can be recycled! That’s about 5 trillion cigarette butts currently littering our coastlines that can be given new life.

Butts break-down contributing to microplastics in our oceans, and they also release toxins into the water.

The filters contain thousands of chemical ingredients: including arsenic, lead, nicotine and ethyl phenol, which all leak into aquatic environments.

In one lab study, a single cigarette butt placed into one liter of water killed half of all exposed marine and freshwater fish. Sea creatures also risk ingesting these smaller plastics bits, which can choke an animal or poison it with toxins.

So how do we even begin to address this army of waste?


To solve this problem, we need a combination of Advocacy and Action.

Aimed at uniting disjointed efforts to curb cigarette butt pollution across the world, The TerraMar Project’s#NoMoreButts campaign focuses on 2 issues.

  1. Cigarette butt pollution is the only socially normal form of littering. Everyone does it in plain sight and nobody says a thing. We want to change that.
  2. There aren’t enough alternative options readily available to smokers to help them dispose of their waste.

TerraMar works with individuals, businesses, and beach cleanups to help collect and recycle cigarette butt waste. Which is made possible through a partnership with TerraCycle – the world’s leader in the collection and re-purposing of complex waste.

Individuals can simply mail their butts directly to the recycling plant by downloading our free postage. And to give people another option than littering, ’pocket ash trays‘ can be purchased which extinguish the waste and erase the scent.

Businesses (as well as festivals and events) can purchase recycling receptacles for their location, and sponsor receptacles in their local communities to help prevent littering.

Recycling cigarette butts requires ZERO change to a business’ operations, and opens HUGE marketing opportunities. Recycling cigarette butts can be a real gateway for businesses to pursue more sustainable operations, and so TerraMar has joined forces with Oceanic Global’s Oceanic.Standard eco-label.

Cigarette butts are the single most commonly found item during beach cleanups. Now these cleanups have the ability to recycle the cigarette butts they find – and to amplify their message to prevent littering in the first place by sharing pictures and videos.

No Excuses

The next step is definitely for cigarette companies to explore alternative materials to today’s plastic butts, but in the meantime people need to accept responsibility for their actions.

You wouldn’t throw a water bottle out your car window, so why throw a cigarette butt when it can be recycled?

There’s even a theme park in France that has trained crows to collect and dispose of cigarette butts. If crows can do it, why can’t we?

What’s our excuse?

Take TerraMar’s #nomorebutts pledge

Participate in TerraMar’s Beach Cleanup Bucket Challenge

Join the fastest growing group of global ocean lovers and receive your free ocean passport.


This article originally appeared on The TerraMar Project's website and can be viewed here.