Cigarette butts and the environment

Tired of cigarette butts littering the street? Cigarettes butts aren't just ugly to look at, as litter, they're also harmful to the environment.



Cigarette filters are not biodegradable, they're plastic, and full of toxic chemicals that are harmful to our waterways, our soil and our wildlife.

Cigarette butts are the most littered item in the world, with 5 trillion butts littered in the world each year. In Toronto, 31% of small litter is cigarette butts.

Many people think cigarette butts are biodegradable, but the cotton-like material in a filter is actually made of plastic. This plastic stays in the environment for a very long time, causing harm to our waterways and wildlife.

Cigarette filters also contain toxic and cancer-causing chemicals like tar, formaldehyde, arsenic and nicotine. These build up in the environment and leach into our soil and waterways, or poison wildlife who mistake filters for food.

So what can we do to stop cigarette butt litter?

Anti-littering signs and littering fines are a start, but unless we have an army of enforcement officers on every street, more needs to be done to stop cigarette butt litter.

There are many creative solutions being used around the world:

  • San Francisco has been charging cigarette manufacturers 20 cents per pack sold in the city since 2009. The fees help cover the litter clean up costs like public ash trays, street sweeping trucks and beach and waterway clean up.
  • Vancouver started a pilot cigarette butt litter recycling project on major downtown streets in November 2013. 
  • New York City was considering a 1 cent refundable deposit on all cigarettes sold in the city - read more here.

What is Toronto doing? 

The good news is that Toronto is working on this problem.

Toronto's Solid Waste Department is working on a pilot litter collection and signage project to improve cigarette butt collection. The pilot will include more ash trays in public spaces and simple things like better signs and clearer marking on public waste bins that already have a cigarette collection spot. The pilot project will take place over the summer and the results will be reported to the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee. Read the staff report on the litter strategy here.

Toronto has also sent a letter asking the Provincial Ministry of the Environment to impose a fee on cigarette manufacturers to cover the municipal cost of cigarette waste and clean up (similar to other stewardship programs already in place for blue box recycling, tires and electronic waste). See the letter here.

What do you think of cigarette butts and litter?

This Saturday May 31st is World No Tobacco day - an international day to promote a smoke free future. On Saturday, remember: a world without cigarettes isn't just healthier for humans, it's also healthier for the environment.