INTERESTING ENGINEERING – Commercial cigarette filters are single-use plastics and the main component of cigarette butts, the most common trash item collected worldwide.
Cigarette filters are marketed under the guise of addressing health concerns by providing a false impression of safety.
These filters, made of a material called cellulose acetate, don’t actually reduce health risks and can even harm the lungs. The cellulose acetate fibers have been shown to deposit into the lungs of smokers.
Governments bear the economic burden of managing the waste and the environmental pollution due to discarded filters and packages. Using available data sources, we estimate the economic burden of plastic tobacco waste on country economic groups.
We reviewed available public data sources that could inform estimates of the economic environmental burden of butt waste for countries.
We estimated total weight of plastic cigarette filters and packaging based on cigarette consumption and applied World Bank waste management cost estimates per ton to this total.
We then applied estimates of ecosystem losses per ton of plastic waste provided by the World Wildlife Fund to establish losses attributable to tobacco’s plastics.
Cigarette filters: “toxic, widespread, preventable sources of marine pollution”
We estimate that US$25.7 billion is lost annually (waste management and marine ecosystem service losses) due to cigarette plastic sources. We estimate US$186 billion in such losses over a 10-year period, adjusted for inflation.
Countries are making progress in developing plastics policies, particularly banning single-use ones, but the costs of tobacco’s plastic pollution are overlooked.
Efforts to reduce plastic pollution should address cigarette filters as toxic, widespread and preventable sources of marine pollution. Countries may develop specific estimates of waste management and ecosystem costs in order to assign tobacco industry accountability for this pollution.
These results indicate minimum estimates for a majority of countries.