Butts are the main element present in the ‘garbage’ abandoned on the beaches and are the second most abundant waste in rivers and reservoirs, where only one of them can pollute up to ten liters of water and its effect last between 7 and 12 years.The uncomfortable aesthetic impact they represent is compounded by the enormous economic cost of their collection and management and the serious environmental damage caused by up to 400 toxic substances present in them.“Some 4.5 trillion cigarette butts they are abandoned every year in natural environments around the world and a single one of them can contaminate up to ten liters of water, and even 50 liters if it is fresh water ”, Miguel Muñoz, coordinator of the Libera Project, explains to the EFE agency. at SEO / BirdLife.This initiative was born in 2017, promoted by the conservation NGO and by Ecoembes in order to curb the consequences of abandoned or littering in the Natural spaces and raise awareness and mobilize citizens through knowledge, prevention and participation.But, despite the fact that society is aware of the risks that the tobacco represents for human health, there is great ignorance about how harmful it can also be for the environment.As detailed in a report released in 2017 by the NGO Ocean Conservancy, the cigarette butts represent the 13% of total waste collected during their global campaign.“Butts are made of cellulose acetate (a component derived from petroleum) and, therefore, they are a non-biodegradable plastic material ”, explains Miguel Muñoz.
In addition, these residues contain nicotine, an element that is often used as an insecticide due to its ability to “end life”, he emphasizes. It is estimated that the polluting effect lasts between 7 and 12 years and some authors affirm that it can reach up to 25.“A single cigarette butt has up to 400 toxic substances, including heavy metals, such as cadmium and arsenic, which are of greatest concern due to their lethal effects on the flora and fauna of the ecosystems ”, warns Miguel Muñoz.According to the report Butts in natural spaces 2018 developed within the framework of the project, when the harmful components of these products are released into the environment, the animals that play important functions for the soil, like worms, they can be poisoned and alter its structure after its disappearance. Therefore, the earth’s surface can become sterile as a result of the abandonment of cigarette butts.The report also warns that the littering of this residue can cause cadmium poisoning through a process of bioaccumulation in marine species that are part of the human food menu.The Clean Landscape association collaborates with the Libera Project with the development of a citizen science tool for its identification, eLitter, which, in the form of a mobile application, allows characterize residues abandoned in natural settings and determine which are the most abundant. It is the first methodology to classify the littering terrestrial, since until now there were only tools to catalog marine litter.The data collected by the application is sent to the Ministry for the Ecological Transition and Demographic Challenge (Miteco), to whose experts it provides information on the sources of origin of the waste for promote corrective measures.“Hopefully in the future we can have biodegradable cigarette butts, although for now the best thing would be for no one to throw them on the ground or in natural or urban spaces, since in the end they are still a waste ”, laments María Cabrera, head of Clean Landscape Communication. Therefore, in his opinion, “prevention is the best solution to the problem.”