As we celebrate Earth Day on April 22 in support of environmental protection, plastic pollution continues to remain one of the biggest worries.
According to the UN, globally 300 million tonnes of plastic waste is generated every year – equivalent to the weight of the entire human population!
More than 99% of plastics are produced from chemicals derived from oil, natural gas and coal — all of which are non-renewable resources. If the current trends continue, by 2050 the plastic industry could account for 20% of the world’s total oil consumption, says the UN Environment agency.
At least 79% of the plastic produced gets accumulated in landfills, dumps or ends up in the natural environment. Cigarette butts — whose filters contain tiny plastic fibres — are the most common type of plastic waste found in the environment.
A staggering 8 million tonnes of plastic ends up in the world’s oceans every year, with most of it coming from rivers. The Ganges-Meghna- Brahmaputra river basins contribute to 72,845 tonnes of the plastic that ends up in the ocean.
If this trend continues, then the oceans could contain more plastic than fish by 2050, says the UN agency.
Almost all states in India have banned the use of plastic bags. Four states -- Maharashtra, Telangana, Himachal Pradesh and Tamil Nadu -- have also banned the use of non-recyclable or single-use plastic, with other states set to take steps against rampant plastic use.
India generates 5.6 million tonnes of plastic waste every year, of which 0.60 million tonnes is reported to end up in the sea, according to TERI.
Although India hasn’t achieved its goals in eliminating plastic yet, the efforts to curb pollution and discovering alternatives are already underway.
But one major pollutant that is causing harm to marine life is yet to be given the attention it deserves -- cigarette butts.
Smokers don’t think twice before throwing the cigarette butt on the road, into water bodies, parks, anywhere. Lack of awareness among smokers is a major issue.
Cigarette filters or butts -- a white cotton-like substance -- are designed to absorb harmful toxins of cigarette smoke and are made of plastic called ‘cellulose acetate’. However, the material used in filtering out toxins from cigarette smoke is itself a slow degrading substance that does not get absorbed by nature easily. It takes 18 months to 10 years for one cigarette butt to decompose. The trouble doesn’t end here. The butt isn’t just a piece of plastic but also contains discarded bits of tobacco and chemicals that leach into the environment and water bodies, causing immeasurable harm.
As a huge quantity of cigarette butts gets dumped into the ocean, they get swallowed by fishes and turtles, according to a report by Whales Alive. Cigarette butts are known to carry the residues of cigarettes, which have over 3,900 chemicals, including nicotine, cyanide, ammonia, cadmium and acetone. These butts swell up in the gut of the marine animals and create a false sense of satiation due to which the animals refrain from eating and eventually die of starvation.
A single cigarette butt is made up of at least 12,000 microplastics and microfibres, which are thinner than a sewing thread, and, according to a study by Clean Virginia Waterways, can be lethal to water flora and fauna. These microfibres could also threaten the food chain and cause a severe effect on human health in the long run.
Approximately 5.6 trillion cigarettes with cigarette filters are manufactured across the globe every year, and as many as two-thirds of the filters are discarded irresponsibly each year, according to a NBC news report.
India is the second largest consumer of tobacco after China, according the Global Adult Tobacco Survey, with 10.7 per cent of them being smokers. Of 346 million global Smokeless Tobacco consumers, India alone has over 152.4 million such consumers.
Tobacco consumption, smoking or non-smoking, kills over one million people in India each year, comprising 9.5% of all deaths. Moreover, besides the toxic effect of cigarettes, the carcinogenic plastic filter adds to the harmful effects of smoking.
It is estimated that 39,885 tonnes of butts and packs wind up as toxic trash in India each year, which is roughly equivalent to the weight of 7,977 endangered African elephants, according to Tobacco Atlas.
Some have come up with biodegradable filters, like Greenbutts. Green filters are quite effective but they aren’t a successful solution to the issue because at the end of the day, they still carry toxins of a burnt cigarette.
‘If nobody smokes, there wouldn’t be this (butt) problem,’ says a Guardian report, could be an ideal solution to the problem!