Are cigarette filters biodegradable? (19 effects of cigarettes on health)

This article will explain the biodegradability status of cigarette filters. Other covered aspects will be:

  • What are cigarette filters?
  • What are the harmful effects of cigarette filters?
  • What are the environmental impacts of cigarette filters?
  • What is biodegradability?
  • Are cigarette filters biodegradable?
  • Can cigarette filters be recycled?

Are cigarette filters biodegradable?

Cigarette filters are not biodegradable because they are made from cellulose acetate which is a plastic. 

It may take 18 months to 10 years for cigarette filters to degrade which is not that significant given the context of non-biodegradable waste. 

Cigarette filters may be recycled leading to better waste and resource management. Recycling is one of the best solutions for non-biodegradable waste. 

What are cigarette filters?

The section of the article will explore the materials that are used to make cigarette filters. The uses and applications of cigarette filters will also be considered. Importantly, the environmental impacts rendered by cigarette filters will also be elaborated on. 

It is argued that more than 90% of cigarettes contain cigarette filters. Cigarette filters are chiefly made from cellulose acetate, which is a plastic. 

Cellulose acetate is made from products derived from fossil fuels. Therefore, it is plausible to assume that there will be harmful impacts of cigarette filters on health and the environment. 

One of the most prominent effects of cigarette filters on the environment is the fact that it is not biodegradable since it employs the use of synthetic material. 

The primary function of cigarette filters is to avoid tobacco particles from entering in the mouth when cigarettes are smoked.

However, it is not that simple in this world full of deception and illusion. It is commented that most cigarette manufacturers exploit the use of cigarette filters by claiming that these filters save from the harmful environmental impacts of cigarettes filters. 

This deception sprouted when smoking cigarettes was linked to many health effects including cancers. 

The use of cigarette filters in cigarettes is reported to have commenced in the 1930s. However, the use increased in the 1950s when the harmful impacts of cigarettes on human health were explored and evidenced. 

What are the harmful effects of cigarettes on human health? (19 effects) 

In the last section, it was detailed how the use of cigarette filters was deceptively linked to better health and protection from the harmful impacts of cigarettes on human health. 

This section will elaborate on the harmful effects of cigarettes on human health so that a better understanding may be developed as to why this deception was needed. 

It is argued that cigarettes may contain more than 7000 chemicals and more than 70 of these chemicals cause cancer. 

Cancer is one of the leading causes of death worldwide and accounts for millions of lives every year. Other health impacts caused by cigarettes are: 

  • Cancer
  • Heart diseases
  • Lungs dysfunctions
  • COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease)
  • Bronchitis 
  • Eye diseases
  • Arthritis
  • Asthma 
  • Addictive problems 
  • Blood clotting
  • Infertility
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unhealthy teeth 
  • Coughing which may be persistent
  • Anxiety 
  • Irritation 
  • Skin issues

The impacts of cigarettes are not just limited to biology but also expand to psychology. The chemicals such as nicotine make a person addicted to cigarette smoking and this impacts him. 

The behavioural symptoms of anxiety, irritation, mood swings, and impulsiveness are sure to come. 

In the last section, it was rightfully detailed that cigarettes contain harmful chemicals that are known to cause a lot of negative impacts on the human body. 

For example, lead is used in cigarettes. It may cause anaemia, weakness, kidney dysfunction, and even brain damage. It may also cause neuro complications and damage to the newborn and foetus. 

Another chemical used in cigarettes is formaldehyde. It is also known to cause problems such as respiratory issues, damage to the lungs, eye and skin irritation and diseases. 

Therefore, it can be concluded that the harmful chemicals used in cigarettes affect all parts of our body and the results are not just limited to the current generation but are also reciprocated to future generations. 

It is even said that cigarettes are linked with a shorter life. For every cigarette a person smokes, his life may be reduced by 11 minutes.

What is the environmental impact of cigarette filters?

Cigarette filters are made from cellulose acetate which is a plastic. Plastics are notoriously linked with many harmful impacts on the environment. 

Plastics are not biodegradable and may remain in the environment or disposal systems for hundreds of years. 

It is even estimated that some plastics may require more than a thousand years to degrade. If we talk about cellulose acetate, it may degrade in about 10 years. 

It is estimated that cellulose acetate may degrade from 18 months to 10 years. If we compare cellulose acetate to other plastics, it may be regarded as much better since conventional plastics take hundreds of years to degrade. 

Another impact caused by plastics is the emission of GHGs. Plastics are made from products derived from fossil fuels. Their production leads to the emission of GHGs like methane, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, ethylene et cetera. 

These gases may increase the overall global temperature. This phenomenon is termed global warming. Global warming, then, in turn, may lead to other environmental anomalies like unprecedented weather patterns or deforestation. 

What is biodegradability?

Biodegradability is the breakdown of waste by the action of microbes. These microbes can be bacteria, fungi, decomposers, algae, and even protozoa. These microbes ensure that the waste generated does not accumulate and gets back to the system of life. 

That is because if there is waste accumulation, there will be negative effects of that waste accumulation which will impact all areas of our life. 

Therefore, biodegradability can also be regarded as nature’s dustbin. What is the role of a dustbin? To keep the waste segregated from the environment and make sure it does not pollute the environment. 

The role of biodegradability is very similar. Other than microbes, there are also external factors which play an important role in the biodegradation process. These may include aeration, sunlight, temperature and pressure. 

The time taken for a product or substance to biodegrade depends on the type of material and the external conditions. 

Based on biodegradability, there is a classification of waste. Waste may either be biodegradable or non-biodegradable. 

This is because not all waste can be degraded by the action of microbes. Most of the waste that is from synthetic materials produced at the expense of chemicals and human innovation is not biodegradable. 

It may take hundreds of years for such waste to degrade and therefore, it is termed non-biodegradable waste. Examples of non-biodegradable waste may include:

  • Resins
  • HDPE
  • LDPE
  • Nylon
  • Acrylic fabric

These materials may take from a few hundred years to a thousand years to degrade. While they persist, they cause a plethora of problems to the environment and life. Examples of biodegradable waste may include plant waste, animal waste, manure et cetera. 

The impact of biodegradable waste on the environment is very less compared to non-biodegradable waste.

Are cigarette filters biodegradable?

In light of discussed literature, the following points are assumed: 

  • Natural materials like animal waste or plant waste are biodegradable whereas, non-natural materials like plastics are generally non-biodegradable
  • Cigarette filters are made from cellulose acetate which is a plastic 

Therefore, it can be concluded that cigarette filters are not biodegradable as they would not readily degrade by the action of microbes. 

Can cigarette filters be recycled?

Recycling is a process in which waste is modified to be used as new materials. This comes with a bunch of amazing benefits. 

The materials that are commonly used for recycling include plastics, paper, glass, metal, electronics et cetera. 

Most contemporary consumer products can be recycled because these products are designed in a way to be reused again, adhering to the 3R approach and motives of the SDGs of 2030. 

The process and inclination of recycling offer many advantages to the environment. It is one of the best solutions to deal with the problem of non-biodegradable waste. 

If non-biodegradable waste is not recycled, it may end up in waste management systems (like landfills) where it may remain for hundreds of years. This will lead to a waste of resources and opportunities. 

A good example can be Econyl. Nylon is a non-biodegradable waste. If it is disposed of, it will either harm the aquatic life and the environment at a pretty grand level or will remain in a landfill for many years. 

If nylon is recycled instead, then the negative effects caused by the disposal of nylon can at least be delayed indefinitely. This is where recycled nylon (Econyl) enters the picture. 

Recycling leads to better waste management because the current waste generation is really problematic to society at large. Therefore, all the endeavours to curb and reduce waste generation are highly prized and recycling is one of those. 

Recycling also leads to better resource management because if products are recycled, they are not needed to be built from scratch. This saves time, labour, energy, and resources. While being good for the economy, it is also great for the environment. Therefore, it is a win-win situation for everyone. 

Regardless of these lucrative motives, the current rate of recycling is quite saddening. In the case of developed countries, less than 40% of recycling capacity is achieved, which means that 60% of the recycled waste is disposed of. 

It is claimed that it is possible to recycle cigarette litter. Recycling is one of the best alternatives to non-biodegradable waste such as cigarette litter. 

Conclusion

It is concluded that cigarette filters are not biodegradable because they are made from cellulose acetate which is a plastic. 

It may take 18 months to 10 years for cigarette filters to degrade which is not that significant given the context of non-biodegradable waste. 

Cigarette filters may be recycled leading to better waste and resource management. Recycling is one of the best solutions for non-biodegradable waste. 

Frequently Asked Questions: Are cigarette filters biodegradable?

What cigarette filters are made of?

Cigarette filters are made of cellulose acetate which is a plastic. 

How long does cigarette litter take to degrade?

Cigarette litter may take up to 10 years to degrade which is mainly because of plastic fibres found in cigarette litter along with chemicals. 

References

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  • 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.
  • Sherman, C. B. (1991). Health effects of cigarette smoking. Clinics in Chest Medicine, 12(4), 643-658.
  • Das, S. K. (2003). Harmful health effects of cigarette smoking. Molecular and cellular biochemistry, 253(1), 159-165.
  • Drope, J., Liber, A. C., Cahn, Z., Stoklosa, M., Kennedy, R., Douglas, C. E., … & Drope, J. (2018). Who’s still smoking? Disparities in adult cigarette smoking prevalence in the United States. CA: a cancer journal for clinicians, 68(2), 106-115.
  • Earth 911. (July 16, 2021). You can recycle cigarette butts. Retrieved from: https://earth911.com/how-to-recycle/cigarette-waste-recycling/

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