About 6 trillion cigarettes are manufactured a year and over 90% of them contain plastic filters. That’s more than one million tonnes of plastic.
Cape Town, South Africa – Plastic straws and bags have received widespread attention as pollutants. But another, even bigger, plastic problem has been slipping under the radar — cigarette filters.
Cigarette butts containing plastic filters are the most littered item in the world. Smokers around the world buy roughly 6.5 trillion cigarettes each year. Cigarette filters are made of a plastic called cellulose acetate. When tossed into the environment, they dump not only that plastic, but also the nicotine, heavy metals, and many other chemicals they’ve absorbed into the surrounding environment.
Tossing a cigarette butt on the ground is one of the most accepted forms of littering, according to the World Health Organization. About two-thirds of butts are dumped irresponsibly — stubbed out on pavements or dropped into gutters, from where they are carried via storm drains to streams, rivers and oceans.
Philip Morris South Africa (PMSA), an affiliate of one of the world’s largest tobacco companies, aims to tackle this problem in South Africa by teaming up with the Central City Improvement District (CCID) and City of Cape Town. The partnership is the start of an ongoing effort to raise public awareness on cigarette butt litter and to encourage smokers to dispose of cigarette butts responsibly.
PMSA recently launched its Unsmoke campaign in South Africa. “Unsmoke” means to rid your life of smoke.
“If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you’re a smoker, quitting is the best choice you can make. If you don’t quit, change to a better alternative. In this way, we can ‘unsmoke’ ourselves, our family, our friends, our city, and our world,” says Marcelo Nico, MD of PMSA.
Part of the campaign includes addressing the issue of cigarette butt litter. PMSA’s goal is to encourage behaviour change, given the huge challenges faced by authorities to keep our city clean daily.
“As a tobacco company, we believe it’s important to partner with authorities and the public on the problem of cigarette butt litter. We aim to ‘unsmoke’ Cape Town and raise public awareness about keeping the city clean. Cape Town is not an ashtray,” says Nico.
A public activation was held in the CBD together with the CCID and City of Cape Town. Teams of Philip Morris employees spread across the CBD to clean up cigarette butt litter. The massive pile of cigarette butts was displayed in St Georges Mall during the busy lunch hour. Members of the public could see for themselves just how much cigarette butt litter is being removed from the CBD each day.
CCID CEO Tasso Evangelinos praised PMSA’s “Unsmoke” initiative, saying he was very excited that the company was joining the fight to keep Cape Town and the Central City clean by encouraging smokers to change their behaviour, thereby assisting the CCID and the City of Cape Town to find ways to reduce the city’s waste footprint.
“The need for creative solutions to our huge litter problem has never been more pressing. Everyone needs to play their part because litter is an avoidable problem, which costs money to clear and negatively impacts on all of our ability to enjoy a clean environment.,” Evangelinos says.
The CCID sweeps and picks up, on average, 2 400 kg of litter from the streets in town seven days a week. A key reason for cigarette butt litter is the absence of disposal infrastructure. To address this, the CCID has placed 300 cigarette butt bins at hotspots around the CBD from which around 300kg of cigarette butts are removed each month.
Says Evangelinos: “It costs the CCID R30 000 per day to clean the CBD, which amounts to nearly R11-million per year. This is in addition to the mass waste removal (through the emptying of black wheelie and green street-pole municipal bins) done by the City of Cape Town.”
“It’s great to see companies proactively taking the initiative to assist with tackling the broader challenge of litter in our beautiful city. Keeping Cape Town clean is a shared responsibility, and we applaud Philip Morris SA for rolling up their sleeves and working to clean up this type of waste and drawing public attention to the extent of it. The City is happy to have supported this initiative, together with the CCID, and encourage others to take similar action,” said Ald. Xanthea Limberg, Mayoral Committee Member for Water and Waste at the City of Cape Town.
Today’s clean-up is just the beginning. PMSA also intends to expand this initiative to other cities. The public is encouraged to get involved.
Everyone needs to understand that cigarettes butts are in fact, litter and that they should be disposed of properly to protect our environment. Together we can Unsmoke Cape Town.