Are cigarettes biodegradable? (9 chemicals used in cigarettes) 

In this article, the biodegradability of cigarettes will be discussed. Other aspects covered will be: 

  • What is a cigarette?
  • What are the health impacts of cigarettes?
  • What are the environmental implications of cigarettes?
  • What is biodegradability?
  • Are cigarettes biodegradable?
  • FAQs

Are cigarettes biodegradable?

Cigarettes are considered non-biodegradable because materials from which cigarettes are made including plastic liners, chemicals, and cigarette buts may remain in the environment for many years. 

Cigarettes are also linked with numerous health impacts that affect most organs and body processes. Health risks caused by smoking cigarettes include cancer, lung damage, skin & eye diseases, irritation, diabetes, and arthritis. 

Cigarettes also impact the environment by causing water, land, and air pollution. Cigarettes also cause deforestation and forest fires causing loss of life and substantiality. 

What is a cigarette? (9 chemicals used in cigarettes) 

Smoking cigarettes has become a norm these days. It is estimated that more than one-third of the global population is linked to smoking cigarettes. In the US alone, more than 30 million people smoke cigarettes and more than 16 million people are affected by the diseases caused by smoking cigarettes. 

However, have you ever wondered what is the environmental impact of cigarettes? You may have most certainly heard about the health implications that are caused by cigarettes but little details and assertions are given on the environmental impacts of cigarettes. 

This article will focus on the environmental impact of cigarettes. It will also take into account the biodegradability and recycling aspects of cigarettes. A brief account will also be given of the health impacts and implications caused by smoking cigarettes. 

In order to better understand what is the environmental and health impact of any product, it is essential to know what that product is made of. The constituents of any consumer product play a very vital role in the determination of its environmental impact. 

For example, as a general rule of thumb, if any product is made from a natural material, it will have fewer impact on the environment; however, if any product is made from non-natural material, it will have a greater impact on the environment. 

If we talk about the composition of cigarettes, the first thing we need to cover is the various chemicals that are used in the making of cigarettes. 

It is asserted that cigarettes contain more than 600 chemicals and cigarettes can release more than 7000 chemicals when burnt. Many of these are known to cause harm to human life. 

It is argued that more than 70 chemicals used in cigarettes are known to cause cancer, which is the leading cause of death worldwide. 

Various chemicals used in the making of cigarettes include: 

  • Nicotine 
  • Tobacco
  • Methanol 
  • Tar
  • Toluene 
  • Lead
  • Formaldehyde 
  • Carbon monoxide
  • Ammonia 

Other than these chemicals, the basic components of cigarettes include: 

  • Tobacco
  • Chemicals 
  • Filter 
  • Paper wrapping 

What are the health impacts caused by cigarettes?

It has been detailed that cigarettes contain a number of harmful chemicals and that these chemicals greatly impact human life. 

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. The figures speak for themselves. 

What is the environmental impact of cigarettes?

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

Cigarettes, 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 waste is 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 in the atmosphere which plays 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 biodegradability?

Have you ever seen rotten fruits or vegetables? If you have, then you can make an educated guess of what biodegradability is. 

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 reduced 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. 

Are cigarettes biodegradable? 

It has been assessed that cigarettes are made of some essential components including filters, chemicals, tobacco, and paper wrapping. 

Owing to these composites, it can be claimed that cigarettes are not biodegradable. It may take many years before partial degradation of cigarettes is achieved. 

In addition to plastic liners found in cigarettes, there are various chemicals which may also hold up for many years. Therefore, cigarettes are regarded as non-biodegradable. 

Other than being non-biodegradable, cigarettes may cause water, land, and air pollution while also impacting various forms of life. 


It is concluded that cigarettes are considered non-biodegradable because materials from which cigarettes are made including plastic liners, chemicals, and cigarette buts may remain in the environment for many years. 

Cigarettes are also linked with numerous health impacts that affect most organs and body processes. Health risks caused by smoking cigarettes include cancer, lung damage, skin & eye diseases, irritation, diabetes, and arthritis. 

Cigarettes also impact the environment by causing water, land, and air pollution. Cigarettes also cause deforestation and forest fires causing loss of life and substantiality. 

Frequently Asked Questions: Are cigarettes biodegradable?

How many chemicals do cigarettes contain?

Cigarettes may contain up to 7000 chemicals and more than 70 of those are known carcinogens. 

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. 


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