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Solving the cigarette butt problem

Cigarette butts don’t get enough flak in the media.

Instead, we focus on the usual suspects: plastic straws, coffee cups, plastic bags, etc.

But the thing is, cigarette butts are just as bad, if not worse.

The butt waste problem

Every year smokers burn through 5.5 trillion cigarettes. Most get flicked away and end up littering the environment (up to two-thirds, according to some estimates). In fact, cigarette butts are the biggest ocean contaminant. Not plastic straws, like you probably thought.

This is all to say that butts are bad news. While the cigarette itself is biodegradable, filters are not. They contain cellulose acetate, a type of plastic that can take up to ten years to photodegrade. And though cigarettes do biodegrade, they aren’t exactly good for the environment. Look at the damage they do to us. A recent study determined that a single butt in just one liter of water can poison and kill a fish.

So, yeah. Not so good…

That’s why organizations like the Cigarette Butt Pollution Project are striving to eliminate tobacco waste altogether. Though cities haven’t talked bans yet, they’re taking the issue very seriously. The City of Toronto, for instance, has launched a campaign advising Torontonian’s to properly dispose of their butts. It’s called: “Don’t be a flicking idiot”.

So, how do I dispose of my cigarette butts?

Butts go in the garbage, never on the ground. Your city might have ash catchers, too. But make sure to put your smoke out before tossing it. Cigarette butts cause a surprising number of fires every year. Nobody wants that on their conscience.

Here’s the thing, though. Even if you do end up tossing that butt in the garbage, there’s a good chance it’ll still end up polluting the environment. That’s because they’re small. So even if it does end up at the landfill, a gust of wind, an animal, pretty much anything, might carry it someplace it isn’t supposed to be.

If you want to be especially vigilant, you can buy cigarettes without filters. That way, if your butt does end up as litter, at least you aren’t introducing plastic waste to the environment. FYI, filters don’t make cigarettes safer to smoke. In fact, they might even do the opposite. Just something to consider.

If your city is a member of the Recycle Coach Network, download our app and we’ll hook you up with local waste and recycling information, including tips and tricks to reducing your waste output.


  1. Adeline Finlay

    May 25, 2021 at 4:54 pm

    I am interested in exploring recycling container for a group of stores in the GTA. We have 35 locations and are considered convenience stores. One of our owners saw the “your butt goes here” unit and wants to explore further. If you could provide or direct me to someone to help me, that would be appreciated.

    Thank you

    • April

      May 31, 2021 at 12:37 pm

      Thank you for reaching out! TerraCycle is working throughout Canada to recycle cigarette butts. You could contact them with more information.
      Hope this helps your business!

      • Shawn daly

        March 15, 2022 at 2:29 pm

        Could burn them. I keep my butts in my pocket to discard of once home.

        • April

          March 18, 2022 at 6:00 am

          Most cigarette butts are made from a plastic material called cellulose acetate, which is specifically designed not to burn easily. It may also be very dangerous to try and burn this plastic since it is meant to filter the toxic chemicals out of cigarettes. If you are able to get them to burn, then they may just be releasing those chemicals back into the air. Burning them yourself doesn’t seem like a safe option for disposal.

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