Are Cigarette filters made from 98% plastic? (3 reuses of cigarette filters)

This article will explain what cigarette filters are made of and what their environmental impact is. Other covered topics would be: 

  • What is the biodegradability status of cigarette filters?
  • Are cigarette filters recyclable?
  • How can cigarette filters be reused?
  • FAQs

Are Cigarettes filters made from 98% plastic?

Yes, cigarette filters are made from 95-98% plastic material (which is cellulose acetate). Other materials include rayon and paper. 

Cellulose acetate is biodegradable and therefore cigarette filters are also regarded as biodegradable. However, there are certain ways in which cigarette filters can be used for good. 

This involves recycling cigarette filters and reusing them to our advantage. Examples include using cigarette filters to make supercapacitors, purifying water, and reducing steel rusting. 

What is the biodegradability status of a cigarette filter?

To better understand the biodegradability status of filter paper, we need to know what filter paper is made of.

The materials used to make any product can reveal a lot about the product. This also includes the biodegradability status while also shedding light on related topics such as the recycling aspect and composting aspects.

A cigarette filter is made from cellulose acetate, paper and rayon. The major component of the filter is cellulose acetate which is a plastic. And therefore, it is non-biodegradable. 

You may wonder if cellulose is a natural material (obtained from wood pulp), then how is it that it is called plastic and given the status of non-biodegradable material? To understand this better, let us further probe into our understanding of biodegradability. 

Biodegradability can be defined as the breakdown of waste or materials by the action of microbes and enzymes. 

It is a natural process and nature’s own way of dealing with the waste problem. If there is no biodegradability, there will be harmful effects on the people and the planet. 

This is because the waste will cause pollution and will contaminate every aspect and factor associated with life and well-being. That is why we have the concept of biodegradability that is so liked and treasured by scientists and common people as well. 

However, not all materials are biodegradable. As the name suggests, biodegradation is the degradation caused by bio. Bio means life. It is caused by microbes such as bacteria, fungi, algae, et cetera. 

These microbes will only degrade the waste that they deem apt for their nutritional health. Such materials include plant waste, animal waste, manure et cetera. This waste is termed biodegradable waste. 

However, the microbes would not degrade the materials that have no nutritional content. As a result, such material will remain in the system for hundreds of years. Such waste is termed non-biodegradable waste. 

Perhaps the most common example of non-biodegradable waste is plastics. Plastics such as PET or HDPE are fossil-based, synthetic polymers that are not found in nature but are designed or rather synthesised in the labs. 

Let us take an example of PET. PET is a synthetic polymer made from the derivatives of fossil fuels. That is why, it may require more than 500 years to degrade. This means PET will remain in the environment or landfill settings for more than 500 years. 

To conclude, we have seen that there are two ways in which a substance is called non-biodegradable. One is the time taken by it to degrade and the other is its environmental impact.

Cellulose acetate is non-biodegradable from the aspects and thus it can be said that cellulose acetate is non-biodegradable and so are cigarette filters (as cellulose acetate is the chief component of it). 

Are cigarette filters recyclable?

Since a stance has been built on the biodegradation of cigarette filters, let us see in what ways cigarette filters can be utilised so that there are minimal impacts on the environment. 

In that regard, there is one healthy option and that is recycling. Recycling is also regarded as one of the best solutions to deal with non-biodegradable waste. 

This is primarily because when non-biodegradable waste is recycled, its negative impacts on the environment are at least deterred if not decapacitated. 

As regards the question, yes it is possible to recycle cigarette filters. Cigarette filters are made of non-toxic materials and there would not be any complications when cigarette filters are processed in the recycling facilities.

You may wonder why recycling is important. As regards this question, it can be answered in the following points:

  • Recycling cigarette filters leads to better waste management 
  • Recycling cigarette filters leads to better resource management
  • Recycling cigarette filters leads to improved employment opportunities
  • Recycling cigarette filters leads to decreased use of resources
  • Recycling cigarette filters leads to decreased GHG emissions and greenhouse effect
  • Recycling cigarette filters leads to economic benefits to the consumers and the producers
  • Recycling is regarded as one of the best solutions to deal with non-biodegradable waste such as plastic or metal cigarette filters

When cigarette filters are recycled, they are not needed to be made from scratch. This means that the source is not given any unnecessary burden.

This is important in the case of materials made from plant-based materials such as cotton or linen. When cigarette filters will be recycled then there would not be any burden on cotton production.

This will increase the possibility of decreased use of agrochemicals such as fertilisers or pesticides.

Also, when cigarette filters are recycled, half of the production processes would already have been done. This means that there will be decreased energy consumption. And because energy is mostly taken from fossil fuels, it would also mean that by recycling cigarette filters, there will be a decrease in GHG emissions.

This may mitigate the exacerbated environmental conditions and anomalies such as global warming, deforestation, and unprecedented weather patterns.

One factor that must be mentioned here is that recycling is regarded as one of the best solutions to deal with non-biodegradable waste such as cellulose acetate. 

This is mainly because when cigarette filters are recycled, their negative impacts on people and the planet are deterred, if only ephemerally. 

Cigarette filters may be recycled by either disposing of them in recycling bins or by transporting them to the nearest recycling centres. You may also contact the recycling centres via phone or email and request a pick-up. That way, you would not need to go beyond limits to get your cigarette filters recycled.

How can cigarette filters be reused? (3 reuses)

As per the 3R approach, there are three ways in which waste may be dealt with. These include: 

  • Reducing 
  • Reusing 
  • Recycling

As you may see, recycling is the least preferred option among the three. This is because even though recycling leads to a decreased use of resources, there are still resources being used. 

You should aim to reduce the use of cigarettes as it is the most favourable in terms of environmental aspects. Also, it reflects your acumen of responsibility and environmental maturity. It is also needless to say that by reducing cigarettes, you are actually taking life insurance for your health and longevity. 

Further, there are also certain ways in which cigarette filters may be reused. Reusing is also a very sustainable way to ensure that you are being environmentally conscious. 

For example, as per one research, scientists were able to reuse cigarette filters to make supercapacitors. This was done through a process of pyrolysis in which cellulose acetate was converted to carbon-based material.

This carbon-based material had a better capacity to store electricity than graphene or carbon nanotubes. 

Further, it is also researched that cigarette filters can also be reused to reduce the rusting of steel by more than 90%. Cigarette filters may also be used to remove arsenic from water which is a major contaminant linked with numerous detrimental impacts. 

Every year, there are more than 3.5 trillion cigarette filters discarded. If all of these can be reused then we can actually implement the quote of Rumi that said, “Your pain can become your cure.” 

Conclusion

It is concluded that cigarette filters are made from 95-98% plastic material (which is cellulose acetate). Other materials include rayon and paper. 

Cellulose acetate is biodegradable and therefore cigarette filters are also regarded as biodegradable. However, there are certain ways in which cigarette filters can be used for good. 

This involves recycling cigarette filters and reusing them to our advantage. Examples include using cigarette filters to make supercapacitors, purifying water, and reducing steel rusting. 

Frequently Asked Questions: Are Cigarette filters made from 98% plastic?

What is a cigarette filter made of?

Cigarette filters are made from 95-98% plastic material (which is cellulose acetate). Other materials include rayon and paper. 

How is cellulose acetate made?

Cellulose acetate is made from the wood pulp through reactions with acetic acid, acetic anhydride, and sulphuric acid. 

References

  • Puls, J., Wilson, S. A., & Hölter, D. (2011). Degradation of cellulose acetate-based materials: a review. Journal of Polymers and the Environment, 19(1), 152-165.
  • Tokiwa, Y., Calabia, B. P., Ugwu, C. U., & Aiba, S. (2009). Biodegradability of plastics. International journal of molecular sciences, 10(9), 3722-3742.
  • Harris, B. (2011). The intractable cigarette ‘filter problem’. Tobacco control, 20(Suppl 1), i10-i16.
  • Stigler Granados, P., Fulton, L., Nunez Patlan, E., Terzyk, M., & Novotny, T. E. (2019). Global health perspectives on cigarette butts and the environment. International journal of environmental research and public health, 16(10), 1858.
  • Qamar, W., Abdelgalil, A. A., Aljarboa, S., Alhuzani, M., & Altamimi, M. A. (2020). Cigarette waste: Assessment of hazard to the environment and health in Riyadh city. Saudi journal of biological sciences, 27(5), 1380-1383.

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