Smoking related litter includes items such as cigarette butts, cigarette filters, matchsticks and discarded cigarette packets. although individually small in size, items of smoking related litter tend to accumulate in large quantities, and are one of the most prolific types of litter having a negative effect on local environmental quality. Smoking related litter is unsightly and difficult to clean up. The small filters fall into grates and cracks in the pavement and therefore avoid detection by the normal cleaning processes. They also accumulate around grids, gutters and other litter traps.
The filters from cigarettes are composed of cellulose acetate, which like other forms of plastic, can persist in the environment for a significant period of time. There is no overall consensus, but there are suggestions that cigarette butts can take anywhere between 18months and 500 years to break down into their raw ingredients and be absorbed back into the environment. The type of environment in which cigarette butts are present has a major effect on this timescale.
Smoking related litter can also be dangerous. It leaks toxins into watercourses, posing a serious threat to wildlife, and the combination of a still burning cigarette end dropped into accumulations of litter is a significant fire hazard.
On 1st October 2012, the Smoke Free Environment Act 2012 came into force in Gibraltar. This Act made it a legal requirement that virtually all enclosed public spaces (including offices, pubs, bars, restaurants and others) had to be smoke free environments. This meant that smoking was no longer allowed indoors in any of these areas, including designated smoking rooms. The potential for smoking related litter outdoors increased as a result of this legislation.
In a survey carried out by ENCAMS in 2005, smokers stated that they were particularly conscious of the fact that cigarette ends can be a fire hazard, and said that they would rather throw them on the floor than use a bin, which may contain other materials which could catch fire. the possibility of fire, together with the smell and mess of discarded cigarette ends, means that smokers are reluctant to carry them around for long periods of time.
What can be done to stop smoking-related litter?
- Smokers can ensure cigarette ends are completely put out to prevent a fire hazard before depositing these ends in public bins,
- Smokers can carry portable ashtrays which can be emptied at any public bin once the contents does not pose a fire hazard,
- Businesses can provide their staff and clients with wall-mounted cigarette disposal units or personal ashtrays with the company logo,
- But above all, do not litter Gibraltar's streets with cigarette ends or packaging.