The cigarette butts are one of the most abundant debris around the world, it is estimated that 4.5 trillion butts are deposited indiscriminately in the environment per year. (Litter Free Planet, 2009). The samples of the national program for the monitoring of marine litter in 9 beaches of the mainland Portugal also show that cigarette butts are usually in the TOP 3 representing on average around 20% of all articles collected in the area of 100 meters.

There are many chemicals used during the process of cultivation and growth of tobacco and cigarette production, residues of these substances can be found in cigarettes as well as in the butts. These include: pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, fungicides and rodenticides.

The particulate matter (tar) and the smoke, resulting from the burning of cigarettes may still be responsible for introduction into the environment of approximately 4000 chemical substances, which include, carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide, oxides of nitrogen, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), ammonia, acetaldehyde, formaldehyde, benzene, phenol, argon, piridinas and acetone; more than half hundred are proven to be carcinogenic to humans. In addition, chemical substances such as arsenic, nicotine, PAHs and heavy metals are leached from butts to the environment.

The filters were included in cigarettes in the 50 decade of the last century when it was reported that the tar yield of cigarettes was associated with an increased risk of lung cancer. The idea was to put the filter for this retain the hazardous waste of tar and nicotine, but in reality, has never worked as well as expected. Many of the toxic substances can escape and enter the respiratory system.

Recently, science has identified additional risks associated with residue of cigarettes; besides the resins that compose the tar yield of cigarettes (Cigar, Pipe and rolling tobacco), cigarette smoke also releases to air those chemical substances that remain for some time after the cigarettes have been smoked, still adhering to the surfaces of these places, securing them and remain available in the environment.

The tobacco is grown in more than 100 countries around 80% of the tobacco plant is used to produce cigarettes. (Source: "Toxicity of cigarette buts and their chemical components to the marine and freshwater fishes, Atherinops Affinis and Pimephales Promelas" Elli Slaughter Fall 2010, San Diego State University, USA).

What is a cigarette filter?


The majority of cigarette filters contains a central part in cellulose acetate that is involved in 2 layers of paper and/or fibre (rayon). The internal enclosure was designed to allow air to flow through the central part in light cigarettes or to block the flow of air in regular cigarettes. The outer casing is designed to prevent sticking to his lips and connect the filter to the pipe tobacco. Chemicals are added to the cigarette paper for controlling the speed of burning and calcium carbonate to launder, in part to create a grey appealing to the extent that the cigarette burns.

The majority of cigarette filters - the part that seems to cotton is, in reality, a form of plastic material (cellulose acetate), its degradability in the environment is very slow. Depending on the environment, the time of degradation of a cigarette filter can vary between 18 months to 10 years. The fibres of cellulose acetate in the filter cigarettes are thinner than a line of sewing and a single filter contains more than 12000 of these fibres.

The cigarette filters used are full of toxic substances known as tar. These chemicals are leached into the soil and water lines, contaminating the organisms. The majority of filters are discarded even with pieces of tobacco, polluting the environment with the nicotine.

The cigarette butts are light and mobile, being carried by the wind and rain to enter the circuits of rainwater, for example through the gutters. The pluvial waters that come from the gutters transporting thousands of butts are not treated and end up in rivers, oceans or beaches.

The cigarette butts discarded represent a significant threat to life in the various terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, not only because the organisms confuse them with food, ingesting them but also by fires that may result.