Cigarette butts: why are we still throwing them on the ground?!?!

DMT headshot

Daniella Matthews-Trigg
Program Associate
Attempting to air my pet peeves in a constructive way 



A survey released in April by Legacy shows that while “more than 88 percent of Americans surveyed think that cigarette butts are an environmental concern, more than 44 percent of those polled who had ever smoked admit to having dropped a cigarette on the ground and nearly 32 percent have dropped a cigarette out of a car window.”

UM HELLO!? I would bet that the majority of the people surveyed would NEVER even think of dropping a plastic bottle on the ground, or throwing wrappers out of their car window. So why don’t people feel like cigarette butts are the same thing? Why does dropping a used cigarette not “count” as littering?

In an increasingly health and environmentally conscious world, cigarette butts remain one of the only socially acceptable forms of littering left.

Oh, and did i forget to mention? “Cigarette butts contain carcinogens that can leach into soil, and chemicals that are poisonous to wildlife, threatening to contaminate water sources.” 

And, “Contrary to popular belief, cigarette filters are not biodegradable. They’re made from cellulose acetate, a plastic that absorbs tobacco “tar” and eventually breaks down in the environment, but never loses its toxicity and can poison essential links in the aquatic food chain.”

Watch this awesome video by Legacy for some serious perspective: (pun intended)

So, What can we do?


1. Hold ourselves accountable– Don’t throw cigarette butts on the ground! THE END! EW!

(Need help quitting? Check out FREE counseling and resources! )

2. Make sure that people who smoke have access to proper receptacles to dispose of butts- Talk to owners of local bars and businesses and encourage them to provide trash cans or cigarette disposal places outside their venues. Encourage your community to provide trash cans and cigarette-butt receptacles in parks and on shopping streets.

3. Remind others– A gentle “Oh, I think there’s a trash can over there” will remind people not to throw their butts on the ground.

4. Volunteer with your local awesome tobacco-control folks/Public Health groups/environmental groups– to pick up litter in your community

5. Be a trendsetter– Carry a small plastic bag (and a plastic glove for the ickiness factor) with you when you’re in the outdoors to pick up butts and other micro trash that you encounter.

6. Support policy that addresses this issue from a environmental and social standpoints-Check out this grant program for communities to reduce toxic pollution, The Cigarette Butt Pollution Project, an article on the case for an environmental policy on hazardous cigarette waste, and Policy Tools by the Tobacco Control legal Consortium. 

7. Educate yourself and others– Spread the word! 

These toxins don’t just go away…they leach into the ground or are ingested by animals

Check out these other websites and resources:

The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics teaches people of all ages how to enjoy the outdoors responsibly, and is the most widely accepted outdoor ethics program used on public lands. (Check it out at

Make sure there are receptacles for cigarette butts

Download Legacy’s factsheet on cigarette litter

A pocket ashtray! A little bit icky perhaps, but super responsible!

Billions of Pieces of Toxic Trash are Leaching Deadly Chemicals

No butts: The campaign to reduce, recycle cigarette waste

The Environmental Impact of Cigarette Butt Waste Factsheet

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