Cigarette butts are everywhere—scattered among shells on the beach, stamped into sidewalk grates, and floating in ocean waters. An estimated 5 billion butts alone clog our planet's oceans. This common litter takes about 10 years to decompose, releasing toxins as it deteriorates. The filters in particular are a problem. Spain has a solution: as part of a large environmental package recently passed, tobacco companies must foot the bill of cleaning up butts around the country.
The package of laws is part of the EU's move away from single-use plastic and other common pollutants. The Royal Decree on Packaging and Packaging Waste passed on December 27, 2022. The law also bans single-use plastic cutlery, cotton buds, as well as certain other plastics. It also seeks, like other EU initiatives, to place the onus of solving the pollution problem on the manufacturers themselves. As a result, cigarette manufacturers will have to foot the bill for cleaning up butts. They will also be required to educate the public on proper disposal.
While the method of clean-up is not yet known, the scale of the problem is quite large—22% of Spaniards smoke. Around the world, 4.5 trillion cigarette butts are disposed of annually. Two-thirds are improperly disposed of. Estimates put the filter waste at about 40% of coastal litter. Of course, everyone also knows that smoking cigarettes has huge negative health effects. When forced to clean up their mess, tobacco companies will likely pass the cost to the consumer through raising the prices of their products. This may have a dual effect of cleaning up existing litter and curbing smoking habits for better health.