Disposing of cigarette butts: How long do they take to decompose?

Disposal of cigarette butts

Modified on: 07/06/2022

Here’s how long cigarette butts last before they decompose (and how to preserve the environment)

For several years now, environmental protection and preserving our beautiful planet have been on everyone’s lips (about time!). Thanks to the efforts of many activists, the most polluting materials are gradually disappearing, making way for ‘green’ alternatives.

However, cigarette butts left on every street corner still manage to ‘stay under the radar and out of most environmental debates.

Unfortunately, neglecting the problems related to the spread of this waste can be a severe mistake that future generations will have to pay a high price for.

This article explains how long it takes for cigarette butts to degrade and the damage they cause to the environment daily.

Read also: Buying electronic cigarette liquids abroad: is it a good idea?

Why our great-grandchildren will still have to deal with our generation’s discarded butts

The truth is that no one knows for sure how long it takes for cigarette butts to decompose completely. It has been estimated that the filters of ‘blondes’ take between 500 and 1000 years to degrade, but there is not enough scientific evidence to answer this question.

The butts are made of plastic, a non-biodegradable material, because the bacteria that cause organic matter to decompose cannot ‘digest’ it.

This material degrades through ‘photodegradation’, a very slow process caused by light radiation from the sun that results in changes in the material’s chemical structure. In this way, plastic objects ‘fragment’ into smaller and smaller pieces until, when they measure less than 5 mm, they are classified as ‘microplastics’.

Cigarette filters are made from a plastic – called cellulose acetate – a type of plastic also used to make sunglasses, textiles, photographic film and many other products. They were introduced in the 1950s to reduce the harmfulness of smoking following the publication of the first scientific studies highlighting the risks of smoking.

However, there is no conclusive evidence that filters make smoking less harmful, contrary to popular belief.

At this point, readers who smoke or who have smoked in the past might ask: “so why is the butt ‘stained’ compared to a new filter? Doesn’t its colour indicate the absorption of the most harmful substances? Not really.

The change in filter colour that occurs while smoking a cigarette is mainly caused by the difference in pH of the cellulose acetate. It is the effect of a simple chemical reaction rather than a fundamental safety feature. As evidence of this, several medical studies have shown that the damage caused by filter cigarettes is almost identical to that caused by unfiltered cigarettes.

The decomposition of cigarette butts

Cigarette butts devastate the environment and kill plants and animals.

Cigarette butts pose a significant danger to the environment. Birds, and many marine animals, can mistake them for food and ingest them, risking severe digestive problems and even death.

In addition, cigarette butts often contain toxic chemicals such as lead and cadmium. When they end up in the sea, these poisons leach into the water, causing severe damage to surrounding wildlife. A study conducted by San Diego State University found that it only takes one cigarette butt to pollute one litre of water to the point of causing the death of all marine life.

Bear in mind that around 5.4 trillion cigarette butts are produced each year, and it is estimated that 70% of these reach the sea! This figure may give a better understanding of the extent of the damage caused by these poisons to the planet and the life forms.

It should also be remembered that cigarette butts are one of the most common causes of forest fires. Their careless abandonment causes major disasters that destroy hectares upon hectares of lush land every year.

Read also: Nicotine salts: what they are and how to use them

In conclusion

We have explained how long it takes for cigarette butts to degrade completely.

As everyone knows by now, plastics are hazardous materials for the environment because they can last for centuries and centuries, polluting water and posing a danger to wildlife. Butts are no exception and given their vast number. As a result, they are among the most harmful waste materials for our planet.

Too often, we overlook that those who choose to give up traditional cigarettes in favour of vaping are doing good for themselves and their environment. Vapers do not produce any waste except when they change the resistance of their device or replace it with a new one. The disposal of these products is carried out safely thanks to the service offered by the ecological islands.

If you too, have eliminated traditional cigarettes from your life and become a vaper, the planet thanks you. The Terpy shop is ready to offer you all the products you need, from nicotine bases to vaping liquids.

We look forward to seeing you on Terpy.com!