Cigarette butts on beach Larina Marina

Call to ban single-use plastic cigarette filters

2 minute read

Victoria Riglen

1 Oct 2020

Environment and health organisations call on the Scottish Government to ban single-use plastic cigarette filters – no ifs, no butts!

A number of environmental and health organisations have come together to highlight their growing concerns regarding the impact of smoking-related litter and, specifically, single-use plastic cigarette filters, on the environment.

ASH Scotland, Keep Scotland Beautiful (KSB) and the Marine Conservation Society are calling on the Scottish Government to take world-leading legislative action to tackle the negative impacts of plastic cigarette filters and include the items in a single-use plastic ban.

The organisations believe that single-use plastic cigarette filters – which do not benefit health – should be categorised alongside other single-use plastics such as plastic cotton-bud stems, cutlery, cups and lids.

Cigarette litter is one of the most visible and prevalent forms of litter throughout Scotland, from its beautiful beaches and parks to busy streets and roadsides. The previous five years of the Marine Conservation Society’s Great British Beach Clean have recorded cigarette stubs consistently in the top five items picked up by volunteers.

In KSB’s annual surveys, a shocking 63% of sites audited had cigarette stubs present, this was even higher in urban areas.

With nearly 3.65 billion cigarette stubs discarded every year in Scotland, and a lack of awareness of cigarette filters often being plastic, a tide of plastic waste continues to litter Scotland’s streets and make its way to the ocean. Cigarette stubs are estimated to take about 14 years to degrade, during which time thousands of chemicals and also microplastics are released into the environment. .

cigarette butt pick up at Great British Beach Clean at Hove Beach Brighton Billy Barraclough

Credit: Billy Barraclough

Catherine Gemmell, Scotland Conservation Officer for the Marine Conservation Society: “Cigarette stubs are consistently in the top five list of items our volunteers find during their beach cleans. It is high time the issue of single-use plastic filters is dealt with. As the Scottish Government opens its consultation on single-use plastics, we need everyone to recognise that these filters should join the debate alongside other single-use items like cutlery and cups. Ultimately, these filters should be banned. In the midst of the interlinked climate and biodiversity crises, action at every level is needed to recover and protect Scotland’s natural environment.”

Sheila Duffy, Chief Executive of ASH Scotland: “Plastic filters do not benefit health and many people aren’t aware that most cigarette butts are made of plastic. But, encouragingly, 72% of Scots think plastic cigarette filters that bring no health benefits should be added to the list of single-use plastic items being considered for a ban.  Scottish Government should act in the interest of Scotland’s health and environment and take action to eliminate this major source of plastic pollution.”

72% of Scots think plastic cigarette filters that bring no health benefits should be added to the list of single-use plastic items being considered for a ban

Catherine Gee, Operations Director at Keep Scotland Beautiful: “Cigarette litter is by far the most common littered item found in Scotland. With three out of five sites audited recording cigarette litter, increasing to four out of five sites in town/city centres, these tiny plastic litter items need to be eradicated - no ifs, no butts! We want it to be easy for people to do the right thing for our environment – this includes effective solutions such as more accessible portable ashtrays for disposing of cigarette butts on the go,  proper innovative bin provision and policy that clearly ensures, through Extended Producer Responsibility and appropriate regulation, that industry doesn’t just contribute to clean up costs, but also looks to a future without single use plastic filters.

Alongside calling for Scottish Government to include single-use plastic cigarette filters in its Single-Use Plastics Consultation, the organisations believe there is a need for renewed focus on ensuring the appropriate disposal of smoking related litter. Suggestions include communications activity at a national level, including raising awareness that filters are single-use plastic items, and behaviour change interventions at a local level.

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