Are cigarette butts biodegradable?  (3 constituents of cigarettes) 

This article will detail the biodegradability of cigarette butts. Other covered details will be: 

  • What are cigarette butts?
  • What is the environmental impact of cigarette butts?
  • What is biodegradation?
  • What is the effect of non-biodegradable waste on the environment?
  • Are cigarette butts biodegradable?
  • FAQs

Are cigarette butts biodegradable?

Cigarette butts are made from cellulose acetate and therefore, they are regarded as non-biodegradable waste. 

Cigarette butts contain harmful chemicals like formaldehyde, cadmium, and lead which impact both the environment and human health. Common health impacts of cigarettes include cancer, lung issues, skin issues, infertility, and neuro complications. 

Cigarette butts are known to cause damage to life and the environment. They account for fervent waste generation and damage to aquatic life. In the US alone, cigarette waste accounts for more than 30% of the total waste. 

What are cigarette butts? (3 constituents of cigarettes) 

The article will commence with an introduction to cigarette butts. While cigarettes are commonly known, less is known about the composition of cigarettes, what materials it is made of and what is the environmental impact of those components. 

This article will detail all the unexplored aspects regarding cigarettes, their effect on human health, and their effect on the environment. The article will brief about the degradability and recycling aspects of cigarettes. 

We all know what cigarettes are but have you ever wondered what is the difference between cigarettes and cigarette butts? Or in other words, what are the components from which cigarettes are made?

Cigarettes are made from some essential components including 

  • Chemicals & tobacco 
  • Cigarette filter 
  • Paper wrapping

Cigarette butt is the end part of the cigarette which is thrown away after cigarettes are smoked. It is the major source of waste that is known to pollute waterways and soil. There are also known impacts of cigarette butts on aquatic species as well. 

This is chiefly because of the materials used to make cigarette butts which are made from plastic fibres (cellulose acetate). These fibres are non-natural and may take many years to degrade. 

What are the environmental impacts of cigarette butts?

The impacts of cigarette smoking are not only limited to human health but are also reciprocated directly to the environment. 

Cigarette butts, when disposed of in waterways, may impact the aquatic life and aquatic ecosystem because fishes may ingest cigarette waste. 

This may result in exacerbated scenarios and even the killing of fish. As per research, one cigarette waste was sufficient to kill a fish in 1 litre of water. When fishes are affected by cigarette waste, all the related aspects and elements of food chains are also impacted. 

Another great impact rendered by cigarette smoking is the issue of deforestation. One of the main ingredients to make cigarettes is tobacco which is obtained from plants. 

The huge amount of cigarette production means that the sources of raw materials for cigarettes are exploited which leads to the cutting of trees and deforestation. 

Deforestation, then, in turn, leads to other exacerbated effects such as disruption of ecosystems, atmospheric degradation, soil erosion, loss of habitats et cetera. 

The waste produced from cigarette smoking directly affects and pollutes waterways. Cigarette butts are one of the most common waste sources in water bodies, primarily the oceans. Their impacts are also reciprocated to aquatic and marine life. 

Another grave implication that is anchored by the smoking of cigarettes is the fact that cigarette smoking is a direct promoter of air pollution. It leads to the emission of harmful gases like carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and methane. 

These gases are termed greenhouse gases because they are responsible for increasing the global temperature to dangerous levels. 

As a result, many harmful environmental anomalies are observed and studied. These may include rising sea levels, floods, loss of life, unprecedented weather patterns, disruption of ecosystem, substantial damages (like crop damages), et cetera. 

As per stats, it is claimed that cigarettes release more than 3 billion kgs of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere which plays a blunt role in environmental degradation. 

Another harmful effect of smoking cigarettes is the induction of forest fires that may result in loss of life and substantiality. 

Discarded cigarette buts or cigarette lighters may initiate forest fires that kill animals, and humans and cause grave economic crises. In the US alone, more than 27 billion dollars are lost to forest fires of which cigarettes are a major cause. 

Forest fires also release huge amounts of harmful gases like carbon dioxide into the atmosphere which cause environmental degradation and global warming. 

What is biodegradation?

It is the breakdown of waste into simpler substances by various drivers of life. Microbes, bacteria, fungi, algae, and decomposers are the most common drivers that cause biodegradation. 

Other important elements that are essential to the equation of biodegradability are aeration, sunlight, temperature, pressure, and other external conditions. 

Recent approaches in biodegradation have also enabled scientists to employ lab-based enzymes and chemicals to achieve the process of biodegradation. 

You may wonder why biodegradation is essential. It is important because it leads to lessened waste generation and accumulation. 

This ensures that life and the environment are saved from the harmful and degradative effects of biodegradation. This will also enable better waste management because if waste management is facilitated, there will be decreased consumption of energy and resources. 

Based on biodegradability, waste may be divided into two categories. These are 

  • Biodegradable waste
  • Non-biodegradable waste 

Examples of biodegradable waste include crops, plants, dead animals, manure, sewage, bioplastics, and natural fabrics. These may degrade in some days or some months. 

Examples of non-biodegradable waste may include synthetic plastics, epoxies, synthetic dyes, and synthetic fabrics like acrylic fabrics. These substances may remain in landfills for hundreds of years. 

For example, synthetic plastics may degrade in more than a thousand years while also causing other environmental problems such as global warming, weather anomalies et cetera. 

What is the effect of non-biodegradable waste?

This section will discuss the impacts and implications caused by the occurrence of non-biodegradable waste. These details covered in the section will, in a way, help us in building a stance on the negative impacts caused by cigarette butts. 

Non-biodegradable waste affects the environment in a number of ways. The most prominent impact of non-biodegradable waste is the accumulation of waste. 

It is expected that the world produces more than 2 billion tons of waste. If this waste is more inclined towards non-biodegradable waste, then this waste may remain in the environment and landfills for as long as a thousand years. 

It will incapacitate the waste management endeavours and the life-carrying capacity of the Earth. Therefore, it is really important that focus must be done on the formation of biodegradable waste more than non-biodegradable waste because the former is easier to tackle and handle. 

Another impact caused by non-biodegradable waste is the emission of harmful gases including greenhouse gases. 

Most of the non-biodegradable material is made from products derived from fossil fuels. These products come at the cost of emission of harmful gases like carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, ethylene et cetera. 

These gases lead to the overall rise in global temperatures and this phenomenon is termed global warming. Global warming then, in turn, leads to other environmental anomalies. 

This is largely because the engine of the Earth is lineage and linkage. If there is a disruption in one aspect, there will be disruption in other aspects as well. 

The impact of non-biodegradable waste is not just limited to the environment. Life, in general, and humans are also greatly impacted by the occurrence of non-biodegradable waste. These effects include: 

  • Organ damage 
  • Necrosis 
  • Cancer
  • Neuro Complications
  • Developmental issues 
  • Damage to the foetus
  • Hormonal disruption 

Are cigarette butts biodegradable?

Based on the current deliberations, it is possible to build a stance on the biodegradability of cigarette butts. 

It has been seen that for a product to be biodegradable, it must be made from natural materials rather than non-natural materials. 

In the case of non-natural materials, the microbes are unable to degrade the structures and as a result, the waste may remain in the environment or landfill settings for hundreds of years. 

Cigarette butts are the end part of cigarettes that are discarded. They account for a lot of waste generation while also causing pollution, environmental degradation, and harm to life. 

Cigarette butts are made from cellulose acetate which is a plastic-based material. Therefore, cigarette butts are considered non-biodegradable. 

Cigarette butts may remain in the environment or landfill settings for many years. It is estimated that cigarette butts may take more than 10 years to degrade. 

Conclusion

It is concluded that cigarette butts are made from cellulose acetate and therefore, they are regarded as non-biodegradable waste. 

Cigarette butts are known to cause damage to life and the environment. They account for fervent waste generation and damage to aquatic life. In the US alone, cigarette waste accounts for more than 30% of the total waste. 

Cigarette butts contain harmful chemicals like formaldehyde, cadmium, and lead which impact both the environment and human health. 

Frequently Asked Questions: Are cigarette butts biodegradable?

Can cigarette waste be recycled?

Yes, it is possible to recycle cigarette waste. It will lead to better waste and resource management. 

How do cigarettes affect life expectancy?

It is estimated that by smoking one cigarette, life expectancy may be reduced by 11 minutes. 

References

  • Bergen, A. W., & Caporaso, N. (1999). Cigarette smoking. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 91(16), 1365-1375.
  • Karavitis, J., & Kovacs, E. J. (2011). Macrophage phagocytosis: effects of environmental pollutants, alcohol, cigarette smoke, and other external factors. Journal of leukocyte biology, 90(6), 1065-1078.
  • Jaakkola, J. J., & Jaakkola, M. S. (2002). Effects of environmental tobacco smoke on the respiratory health of children. Scandinavian journal of work, environment & health, 71-83.
  • Florescu, A., Ferrence, R., Einarson, T., Selby, P., Soldin, O., & Koren, G. (2009). Methods for quantification of exposure to cigarette smoking and environmental tobacco smoke: focus on developmental toxicology. Therapeutic drug monitoring, 31(1), 14-30.

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