Green Smokers: Never Litter But Still Chuck Butts?

cigarette butts grass photoDmodzelewski/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Photo: Dmodzelewski via Flickr

Let's confess: Sometimes, say a pack a week, I smoke. And when I've finished the dirty deed -- well aware of the health and environmental consequences -- I'm left with my hands full. Between my fingers is the smelly, smoldering remnant of a habit I'm trying to kick.

And the temptation for some really schizophrenic behavior.

In most facets of my life, I'm pretty green: From the way I live, to the way I get around. I certainly don't throw anything else on the ground. But when it comes to cigarettes, it's a struggle. And frankly, I'm not alone: I can't count how many times I've met some truly green people who don't think twice about tossing a butt on the street or out of a car.

cigarette butts street flowers photo

Photo: Quinn.Anya via Flickr

Cigarette Butts are Litter
In much of the world, there's a certain psychology around cigarette butts. Somehow, we are able convince ourselves that butts are not litter. But, well, they are: According to, several trillion cigarette butts are littered worldwide every year.

neu portable ashtray photo

Neu portable ashtray. Photo: Japan Trend Shop

Perhaps the exception to this outlook is Japan, where throwing a butt on the ground is increasingly scorned, and portable ashtrays -- and these things can actually be really stylish -- are the norm.

Cigarette Butts Leach Chemicals and Start Fires
There are so many bad things about these butts. They leach toxic chemicals, start forest fires, animals eat them, and, frankly, they are just plain ugly. We want them to be biodegradable -- but each butt actually takes up to 10 years to break down.

And yes, it is particularly unpleasant to stick the smoking, smelly butt in your pocket.

cigarette butts ground photo

Photo: Freakynami via Flickr

There are solutions out there: More standing ashtrays on the streets, perhaps 'green' butts, embracing the portable ashtray. But what we really need to do is come to terms with our behavior. Something I'm working on. Cigarette butts are, in fact, really poisonous litter.

standing cigarette butt ashtray photo

Photo: Eurlief via Flickr

More from TreeHugger and Planet Green on Smoking and Cigarettes
Smoking: Environmental and Social Impacts
TreeHugger Forums • View topic - The harmful cigarette
The World's Most Eco-Friendly Ashtray
Resolution: Ban the Butt
Clean Our Air, Clean Your Lungs: Quit Smoking
Green Glossary: Secondhand Smoke

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