Cigarette filters are made from cellulose acetate, a plastic which only degrades under severe biological circumstances, such as when filters collect in sewage. In practice, cigarette butts tossed on streets and beaches do not biodegrade.
- Under optimal conditions, it can take at least nine months for a cigarette butt to degrade.
- The sun may break cigarette butts down, but only into smaller pieces of waste which dilute into water/soil.
Growing concerns over the impact of tobacco waste on the environment, as well as the substantial costs of cleanup, have prompted states, municipalities and institutions to enact a variety of policy actions. For example, 317 municipalities prohibited smoking on beaches and 1,531 prohibited smoking in parks as of October 2017.
Tobacco manufacturers need to be held responsible for the extreme amounts of waste that their products create.
Unlike cigarette butts, e-cigarette waste cannot biodegrade even under severe conditions. E-cigarette cartridges discarded on streets mix with leaf litter and get pushed around by weather events, eventually breaking down into microplastics and chemicals that flow into storm drains to pollute waterways and wildlife. The DEA advises to contact local waste departments about their household hazardous waste (HHW) program to see if they accept e-cigarettes, and if that is not an option, remove the battery (if possible) and bring the battery to recycling. After the battery has been removed, the rest of the e-cigarette can be brought to DEA prescription take-back days.
E-cigarette manufacturers do not provide guidance to consumers on how to dispose of used devices or pod/cartridge products.
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