Stub out polluting cigarette filters for good, campaigners say

In Amsterdam, the butts were used to spell out #nofilterplease on the Dam. Photo: PlasticPeukMeuk

Campaigners have called for efforts to ban cigarette filters to be stepped up after volunteers collected over 600,000 cigarette butts on Plastic Buttsmut Day.

Thousands of volunteers in the Netherlands and 13 other countries, including the United States, Israel, Argentina, Canada and Portugal, took to streets and parks on Saturday to collect the discarded butts.

The initiative, which started life in 2019 in Amsterdam and is called Plastic PeukMeuk in Dutch, is aimed at raising awareness about the damage the plastics in discarded cigarette filters do to the environment, but campaigners also want a complete international ban on the filters.

“It’s wonderful how many cigarette butts have been removed,” PeukMeuk organiser Bernadette Hakken said. “But if you think that there are still billions of them left lying around and how many will be discarded next week, you’ll know this is a very big problem.”

According to Hakken, the case for a ban on filters is gaining support among politicians. Research commissioned by junior infrastructure minister Vivianne Heijnen showed a ban is the only effective measure to stop the widespread pollution caused by filters. Heijnen promised she would try to get a ban on the European agenda.

Some 10 billion filter cigarettes are sold in the Netherlands each year. Two in three filters end up in the environment, leaking toxic substances into the soil and the water.

The Netherlands is aiming for 70% fewer filters in the environment in 2026, but raising awareness is not enough and the only remedy is a complete ban, campaigner Karl Beerenfenger said. “Even if we reduce the number of filters by 70%, that still leaves over a billion butts out in the streets each year.”

Beerenfenger said the European Union missed an important opportunity to put cigarette filters on the list of banned single-use plastics, along with plastic drinking straws, cups and Qtips, in 2021. Currently the only European measures concerning filters is compulsory marking and an obligation for tobacco companies to foot the bill for removing filters from the environment.

“That is not enough and the world is now looking to the Netherlands to take the lead in promoting a ban,” Beerenfenger said.

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