Ban on cigarette filters only way to stop pollution: study

In Amsterdam, the butts were used to spell out #nofilterplease on the Dam. Photo: PlasticPeukMeuk
Cigarette butts collected in Amsterdam by campaigners. Photo: PlasticPeukMeuk

The government is losing the battle against cigarette butts in the environment and smokers are continuing to throw them away as they wish, a study by sustainability think tank CE Delft has shown.

Short of a complete ban on cigarette filters, the current policy of discouraging smoking and so limiting toxic plastic waste will not solve the problem, CE Delft said in a report commissioned by junior environment minister Vivianne Heijnen.

Heijnen wants to reduce the amount of dumped filters, which contain plastics and chemicals, by 70% in 2026. The current measures, including a ban on smoking on beaches and awareness campaigns, have only resulted in a 15% reduction, CE Delft found.

Just last year volunteers collected almost 90,000 cigarette butts during a two-week cleanup of the Dutch beaches, in a total of 4,400 kilos of waste left by beachgoers.

A ban on filters will only become feasible in 2026 when the European rules on single use plastics will be reviewed, the report said. A deposit scheme for butts, while possible, is untried. Consumer research has shown that just over a quarter of smokers said they would be willing to hang on to their butts and hand them in at a designated collection point.

It is unclear how many filters are currently being discarded in the streets and elsewhere. Estimates put the number between 200 million to 7.1 billion a year and a single one could contaminate 1,000 litres of water.

The outcome is a setback for Heijnen, who had pledged she would let MPs know how to reach the goal of 70% reduction before April 20.

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