'We Want the Cigarette Companies to Come Up with Some Solutions'
Butt Rush demands government and business clean up
Smoking cigarettes has been termed a psychological habit and tobacco is one of the favoured commodities on our planet. Trillions of cigarettes are smoked every year around the world.
The remains of a cigarette after smoking, the cigarette butt, consists of a tissue tube containing a cellulose-acetate based filter wrapped in paper and some remains of tobacco mixed with ash.
Due to the polymeric structure of cellulose, it takes years to biodegrade and leaches out harmful chemicals, heavy metals etc in the meantime, contaminating soil and water.
Some studies suggest that the annual consumption of 5.7 trillion cigarettes and 75% littering rate results in cigarette butts being one of the most critical ecological issues worldwide.
Many have taken initiatives regarding the disposal of CB waste. In India, an initiative known as Butt Rush is leading the charge to tackle one of India's most harmful pollution problems.
"Whenever we ask any people about plastic pollution everyone thinks it's a plastic straw or a plastic bottle, but nobody knows that the most common pollutant form of plastic is CBs," says Shankar Singh, Butt Rush organizer.
They organise 24 hour marathons where participants scour a city to collect and dispose of cigarette butts. While Butt Rush volunteers have collected hundreds of thousands of cigarettes across different cities in India, they say one of the biggest issues is the lack of awareness on how harmful cigarettes are to living beings.
"I think common people don't know - even I came to know yesterday only that it has microplastics and that is polluting the environment - so some awareness should be there through schools or through some other organisations to dispose of it properly," says Nutan Batra Malik, a teacher by profession.
Approximately 100 billion cigarettes are sold every year in India, many of which don't make it to trash bins. CB's have significantly shown that they can inhibit plant growth as well as harm animals and marine life. Butt Rush also wants to hold cigarette companies and the government responsible for the growing pollution problem.
"We want the cigarette companies to come up with some solutions as to how these butts can be collected. And also we want them to be responsible so that they can collect these butts and to recycle them on their own," said Butt Rush volunteer Pooja.
Cigarette butts accumulate outside buildings, on parking lots, and streets where they can be transported through storm drains to streams, rivers and breaches. Some research findings suggest the use of CB's in building materials such as ceramic tiles, or even by birds to protect their nests from harmful pesticides. Researchers have made several attempts to recycle cigarette butts in different construction sites.
CBs present a unique challenge to ecosystems due to their ubiquity, persistence and potential for harm. Over 35 studies have examined the toxicity of cigarette butts in biota from aquatic and terrestrial habitats from microbes to mice, but many organisms and habitats haven't been tested. Two thirds of studies are on aquatic organisms and lethal effects were common. Research on the impacts on terrestrial life is lagging behind. CB's can affect the growth, behaviour and reproductive output of individual organisms in all three habitats.
Despite the hazardous nature of cigarette butts, various researchers have proved their use in the making of various things like toys, keychains etc. Some recent studies proved that a CBs-derived AC-Ag nano composite could be given at low doses to reduce the bacterial and mosquito larval population. CB's are even found to be promising for further application as electronic materials.
Various sustainable initiatives have been taken of recycling cigarette butts where they turn them into various products such as toys, décor accessories and more. Entrepreneurs believe that in order to conserve the depleting environment various sustainable efforts are required that will have positive ramifications. Nowadays people are coming with solutions that strive to find a way to recycle everything, where they offer a free cigarette waste recycling program. Every change begins with self awareness in order to make our planet worth living and that's what makes it important to initiate various awareness programmes.