The National Council Against Smoking is working with Greenpeace Africa to raise awareness about the plastic in cigarette butts as part of Plastic-free July. They are leveraging on the global campaign, encouraging people to rethink the way they use plastic, by starting a campaign on their VUMA.EARTH platform, which calls for a ban on cigarette butts in South Africa.
“It may not be widely known, but cigarette butts are themselves made out of a form of plastic – cellulose acetate. They can take months or even years to break down into smaller pieces of plastic but will not biodegrade,” said Savera Kalideen, Executive Director National Council Against Smoking.
The tobacco remnant is biodegradable because it’s made from plant material, but is still poisonous to humans, animals, aquatic organisms and the environment.
“Cigarette butts are the most frequent item of litter picked up on beaches and other water bodies worldwide. In South Africa, cigarette butts continue to be the third most common item of litter found on beaches during clean-ups,” Kalideen added.
Around 23.49 billion cigarettes are consumed in South Africa each year, according to the National Income Dynamics Study, with global evidence showing that the majority of these will not be thrown away in a waste bin.
Cigarette butts seep chemicals and toxins such as nicotine, arsenic and heavy metals into the water and land, contaminating it long after the cigarette has been smoked and the butt thrown away. A recent study showed that half of the fish left in both fresh and salt water polluted with cigarette butts died as a result of this exposure, even though the cigarette butts had only been in the water for 96 hours.
In line with the polluter pays principle, tobacco companies that produce cigarettes need to take responsibility for the collection and appropriate disposal of cigarette butts, and not shift this responsibility to municipalities, and the taxpayer as they currently do.
“Plastic waste is changing the face of Africa. The fight against plastics cannot be a burden put on the public alone. We need to start putting pressure on corporations to rethink their role in how to alleviate and ultimately eliminate single-use plastic,” said Nhlanhla Sibisi, Greenpeace Africa Pan-African Plastic Project Spokesperson.
Sign the petition, and show government and tobacco companies that you care about the health of our land and our oceans, and that you demand that they act now!