Saturday, July 26, 2008

Planet isn't an ashtray

Planet isn't an ashtray

You wouldn't know it by looking around -- or more appropriately, down -- but the world is not an ashtray.

In the vicinity of designated smoking areas outside of workplaces, on the streets in front of bars and restaurants, in the gutters and along the roads are copious amounts of cigarette butts.

Think about how often people are seen stomping out smokes on the sidewalk or tossing smoldering butts out car windows as they drive along.

It happens with a regularity that is frighteningly casual.

It's another environmental threat to throw on the heap of environmental threats that threaten our fragile planet: decreasing water levels and quality, increasing greenhouse gas emissions and summer smog days, among many others.

A single cigarette butts looks innocuous. Small, white, filled with tiny fibres. But like the proverbial drop in a bucket, they add up.


Worldwide, it's estimated that 4.5 trillion (that's a four and a five followed by 11 zeroes) cigarette butts are thrown on the ground annually.

That single, seemingly weightless little cigarette butt, when joined with 4.5 trillion of its buddies comes in at 1.69 billion pounds.

Canadians haphazardly toss 52 million cigarette butts on the ground each year, with a combined weight of more than 19,000 pounds.

Those numbers are so large, it's difficult to sit back, think about their magnitude and actually comprehend what they mean.

In short, it means a whole lot of litter. Now consider how those numbers accumulate if it takes between 15 and 20 years for a single cigarette butt to decompose.

To make matters even worse, the decomposition of a cigarette butt isn't clean. There are roughly 12,000 plastic acetate fibres in each butt that leaves a mark in the ecosystem.

But not all butts stick around long enough to decompose. Laying on the ground, they are conveniently found by animals, both pets and wild. Theses butts may be mistaken for food.

If ingested, the animals are eating a toxic stew, with chemicals like benzopyrene, for maldehyde, toluene, cadmium and nicotine present.

Stricter smoking regulations have helped decrease smoking rates across the country. The Canadian Tobacco Use Monitoring Survey has tracked a steady drop in smoking rates among Canadians since 1999, from 25 per cent to 19 per cent.

The drop among youth has been more dramatic, falling from 28 per cent to 15 per cent.

But the fact of the matter is people are still smoking.

As long as they are, the private and public sectors have to work together to ensure there are proper places for smokers to discard their butts.

But smokers also have to take it upon themselves to stop throwing their cigarette butts on the ground.

Find an ashtray. Or better yet, quit smoking altogether.

Worldwide, it's estimated that 4.5 trillion cigarette butts are thrown on the ground annually.

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