Waste Management

  • What Is the Greatest Source of Ocean Pollution?

What Is the Greatest Source of Ocean Pollution?

Oct 01 2018 Read 907 Times

The world’s plastic pollution problem is well-documented. At the last count, over 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic had found their way into our seas and oceans. Some of these were deposited directly onto beaches and coastal areas, but the vast majority ended up being washed offshore through rivers, drains and from flooded storm water.

In a bid to tackle this escalating problem, environmentalists have systematically targeted major sources of plastic pollution. First up were plastic bags, then plastic straws and stirrers, as well as cutlery, plates and other single-use items. However, the greatest source of ocean pollution has still largely eluded regulation: the cigarette butt.

The most littered item on Earth

Of the 5.6 trillion cigarettes that are produced around the world every single year, almost all of them contain cellulose acetate filters. Originally designed as a marketing gimmick which proclaimed to make cigarettes healthier, the filters have now been shown to have little effect other than making smoking easier - and polluting the world’s land and seas.

The cigarette butt has consistently been the most collected piece of rubbish on beaches around the world for the last 32 years, with a grand total of over 60 million individual items having been picked up during that time. Its ubiquity is in part due to the fact that flicking away cigarettes butts has become, for many smokers, part and parcel of the whole experience.

Deeply damaging to the environment

Not only do cigarette butts make unsightly additions to our pavements, fields, rivers and oceans, but they can also have a significantly detrimental impact on the flora and fauna which calls those environments their home.

Tobacco products are known to contain a harmful cocktail of over 7,000 chemicals, many of which are toxic and harmful to both human and animal life. Filters in particular contain dangerous ingredients like arsenic, heavy metals and nicotine. When left to persist in the natural environment, they have unknown consequences on the life around them.

Cleaning up a dirty habit

In a bid to counteract these omnipresent contaminants, many concerned environmental groups are taking steps to clean up our waterways. The International Coastal Cleanup meets every September and features millions of volunteers who pick up cigarettes, plastic and other detritus from beaches around the world.

Of course, the best way to clean up contaminated bodies of water is to avoid the pollution in the first place. Some groups are campaigning for the filter to be banned outright, since it doesn’t actually offer tangible health benefits, while others are looking for more eco-friendly alternatives. Greenbutts are a San Diego-based startup who have created a biodegradable filter made of hemp, tencel and wood pulp. Although ready for market, the company say they really the government to pressure the industry from the top down, or change will simply not materialise.  

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