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Cigarette Butts: The Most Littered Item in the World

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Cigarette Butts: The Most Littered Item in the World
Cigarette butt litter. Tavallai / CC BY-ND 2.0

By Dipika Kadaba

We've known for more than 50 years that smoking cigarettes comes with health hazards, but it turns out those discarded butts are harmful for the environment, too. Filtered cigarette butts, although small, contain dozens of chemicals, including arsenic and benzene. These toxins can leach into the ground or water, creating a potentially deadly situation for nearby birds, fish and other wildlife.


These tiny bits of trash are a very big problem. Each year trillions of cigarette butts are tossed out around the world. Beach cleanups continually find that cigarette butts are the most-littered item — even more than plastic bags.

Municipalities have started to take steps to curb plastic pollution, enacting bans on plastic straws, bags and other single-use items. Will similar efforts be undertaken to snuff out cigarette butt litter?

Reposted with permission from our media associate The Revelator.

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UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres delivers a video speech at the high-level meeting of the 46th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council UNHRC in Geneva, Switzerland on Feb. 22, 2021. Xinhua / Zhang Cheng via Getty Images

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