To smokers, your cigarette butts are hurting the ocean, too
Should we just make all beaches non-smoking areas?
Oct 5, 2017
Imagine a sardine dressed like a dapper gentleman, having a fancy cigar before checking in his five-star can of Ligo, or a salmon outfitted in a Tokyo-chic get-up oozing coolness while having a smoke before getting turned into sushi. During a coastal-cleanup trip to Baler last weekend, these were the caricatures popping into my head as I picked-up the hundredth cigarette butt in under thirty minutes.
Contrary to popular belief, or contrary to what I believed, the number one trash found along beaches aren’t plastic wrappers or those straws we watch getting painfully pulled out of a turtle’s nose in that one video on facebook. For some years now, cigarette butts have been a major problem for beaches and waterways.
Just to give you some perspective on how much of a problem they are, here are some numbers. During my trip to Baler, while attending the Free the Sea Movement 2 coastal clean-up, we collected over 1000 cigarette butts in under one hour, outnumbering every other trash in the area. Last year, the results were pretty much the same. According to data derived by LegacyForHealth.Org from Ocean Conservancy, approximately 3,216,991 cigarette butts were collected from beaches and waterways around the globe during the International Coastal Cleanup in 2009 alone.
As if it isn’t bad enough that smoking is contributing to air pollution, it turns out that what many humans dismiss as a bad habit is actually one of the biggest contenders for messing up our marine ecosystems.
We all know how smoking is bad for our health. We know how it’s bad for the air we breathe. But, how exactly is it bad for our oceans?
Well, according to science, it messes with the marine ecosystem in two ways. Firstly, cigarette butts aren’t just made of ash, they actually have plastic. The filters in your cigarette sticks? Yeah, they’re made of microplastics that take a total 25 years to decompose. At least. So, when you flick your cigarette butt onto the sand after enjoying a satisfying smoke on the beach while enjoying the breeze, the sand doesn’t just eat that shit up and magically make your trash disappear.
Best case scenario is it stays there. The most frequent, real scenario? You know those videos and pictures of a whale or some other type of fish getting cut up and having a stomach filled with plastic inside? Yeah, that. Also, it could be this:
Second way your Marlboro messes up the ocean is through chemicals. One stick of Winston contains a ton of poisonous chemicals like lead, acetone, arsenic, formaldehyde, benzene, and benzoapyrene. Fun fact, benzoapyrene is a chemical found in coal tar which is considered one of the most potent cancer-causing chemical in the world. When your cigarette butt gets washed into the ocean, these chemicals leak into the waters and damage the quality of the waters. This, in turn, can either poison marine life or just mess up their biochemistry big time.
Header photo courtesy of 1millionwomen.com.au
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