Cigarette butts: a potent form of waste to erase from public spaces - RED/ACCIÓN

Cigarette butts: a potent form of waste to erase from public spaces

 Una iniciativa de Dircoms + RED/ACCION

Cigarette butts are the most abundant waste on public roads on the planet. Both in Argentina and internationally, it is urgent and necessary to delve into the socio-environmental impacts related to cigarette butts. Eco House Global set out to make a report, in order to make the problem of cigarette butts more visible, raise awareness and provide individual and collective tools to reduce the negative consequences of their incorrect management.

Cigarette butts: a potent form of waste to erase from public spaces

Ilustración: Julieta De la Cal

Hello! Cigarette butts are the most abundant waste on public roads on the planet. Both in Argentina and internationally, it is urgent and necessary to delve into the socio-environmental impacts related to cigarette butts. Eco House Global set out to make a report, in order to make the problem of cigarette butts more visible, raise awareness and provide individual and collective tools to reduce the negative consequences of their incorrect management.


It is estimated that smokers dispose of between 4.5 billion and 5.6 billion cigarette butts a year in the world, which is equivalent to approximately 18,000 million cigarette butts per day. Its incorrect management has serious and negative impacts both for the environment and for society. That is why it is so important to know what its components are, the harmful effects they cause on ecosystems and people, the characteristics of the tobacco industry, the current legislation in this regard and the different management alternatives. The data comes from the report carried out by Eco House Global, a non-profit organization of Action for Sustainability.

  • Cigarettes are made up of three main elements: tobacco, paper and filter. As for tobacco, the plant has inherent chemical substances —such as nicotine— and other substances added throughout the production system, some of them classified as potentially harmful to humans or the environment. For its part, the paper is treated with different chemical substances that are added to control color and combustion. Finally, filters are incorporated to retain the harmful chemicals present in the cigarette. Although there are different types, in most cases they are made from cellulose acetate, an artificial polymer that is difficult to biodegradable under natural conditions. The filters turn into butts once the cigarette is finished. Each component of a cigarette butt—ash, unburned tobacco, filter, and paper—can contain different chemicals that could be released into the environment over time, making it a hazardous waste.
  • It is very difficult to accurately estimate the level of contamination that a butt can generate, since it depends directly on the chemical composition of the tobacco, the type of filter, the way of smoking cigarette, the characteristics of combustion and the environment in which it degrades. However, it is estimated that tobacco smoke contains about 7,000 components, of which almost 70 are carcinogenic substances, such as arsenic, benzene, beryllium, 1,3-butadiene, cadmium, chromium, ethylene oxide, nickel and chloride of vinyl. In addition, tobacco can absorb and accumulate radioactive compounds in amounts that are hazardous to health, such as lead-210 and polonium-21, which can be present in contaminated soils and in applied fertilizers. This happens because the structure of tobacco leaves is especially efficient in absorbing these compounds. All these substances are adsorbed by the filter and remain in the butt. It has also been shown that butts can retain a part of the insecticides used in the tobacco plant prior to harvest.
  • Regarding degradation times, although studies show different results, cellulose acetate cigarette butts remain in the environment for at least 14 years and, while they degrade, they can contaminate the environment, as they continue to maintain their toxic load.
  • According to a survey by Eco House Global conducted between 2017 and 2020 in the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires, Argentina, to more than 10,000 smokers for the #OjoConLaColilla campaign, more than 70% of those interviewed throws the cigarette butt on the floor in an automatic act. This occurs both in urban public spaces —streets, sidewalks and squares—, as well as in natural environments. Many of these cigarette butts are washed into drains by wind or rain and thus reach streams, rivers and oceans.
  • In this way, the generation of this residue that contains chemical products and heavy metals undoubtedly represents a threat to people, animals and plants. When cigarette butts degrade in a terrestrial environment, they can reduce soil fertility and affect local flora and fauna. When this happens in an aquatic environment, a single cigarette butt can contaminate up to 1000 liters of water, harming all the organisms that depend on it.


In Argentina, tobacco cultivation represents an important activity in economic and social terms for the Northwest (NOA) and Northeast (NEA) of the country, which makes Jujuy, Misiones, Salta, Tucumán, Catamarca, Corrientes and Chaco in the main producing provinces. The most produced and exported varieties are Virginia and Burley and, to a lesser extent, a variety of Local Criolla tobacco for the domestic market. In this stage of production, around 35,000 jobs are generated between large and medium wage-earning producers and small family producers. For its part, the cigarette manufacturing stage takes place mainly in Greater Buenos Aires and generates around 6,000 jobs.

During 2015, cigarettes were responsible for 44,851 deaths in the country and the cost of treating health problems attributable to smoking represented 7.5% of total health spending, an amount that was not covered by the funds raised through tobacco taxes. Against this background, prevention and training policies have proven to be effective in reducing or stagnating consumption.


At the international level, several countries have generated regulations related to the management of butts or the tobacco sector in general. In this line, the Framework Convention of the World Health Organization for Tobacco Control (FCTC-WHO) was created in 2003, signed and ratified by 177 States until May 2021. Argentina added its signature in 2005 but not yet its ratification.

  • At the local level, the main regulation is the National Tobacco Law No. 19,800, which regulates tax issues related to the production and marketing of the product. This is complemented by Law No. 26,687 on the Regulation of advertising, promotion and consumption of products made with tobacco, known as the Anti-Tobacco Law. After its sanction, the adhering provinces had to adapt to this new regulation and generated their own regulations. The Autonomous City of Buenos Aires sanctioned the Law No. 6403 on the Prohibition of the Disposal of Cigarette Butts, Cigars or Filters in Public Spaces, promoted and worked on by Eco House Global based on the #OjoConLaColilla campaign. Other examples are Tierra del Fuego, which prohibited the advertising, promotion and sponsorship of tobacco products and their display at points of sale, and Neuquén, which prohibited the dumping of cigarette butts on public roads and in common spaces for public use. Likewise, some localities also began to strengthen their legislation on the matter: Pinamar sanctioned Ordinance 5576/19, which prohibits smoking on its beaches, and created the Smoke Free Beach program, and the city of Corrientes approved through Ordinance No. 6,966 the installation of cigarette holders, areas for smokers on the beaches and disciplinary sanctions for those who do not comply, among others.
  • There are different alternatives for managing butts that involve treatment in landfills, differentiated collection for recycling processes, reuse, bioremediation and thermal destruction. There are international companies that implement recycling processes, collecting cigarette butts, recycling cellulose acetate and obtaining new products such as plastic pellets, ashtrays and others. As for reuse, various projects make works of art or products, such as surfboards with discarded butts, in order to promote awareness of this problem. For its part, the bioremediation processes studied have made it possible to degrade this waste with biological methods —with fungi, bacteria or plants—, reducing its toxicity and even remediating already contaminated environments. Lastly, in some cities around the world, such as Ushuaia, Argentina, thermal destruction processes were implemented for its treatment and the gases obtained are within the parameters defined by law.
  • "Today, the tobacco industry does not have a specific role in the management of this waste, but only develops Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives. For this reason, it is important to work on the implementation of Extended Producer Responsibility (REP) regulations that transfer to the tobacco industry the responsibility for the impacts of its products throughout their entire life cycle", they highlight in the report.< /li>


According to recent studies, the average diet of the Argentine population is not very diverse (4.48 points on a scale of 10), of low nutritional quality (only 11% of the population has a good diet quality) and unsustainable (particularly in terms of greenhouse gas emissions). This reinforces the need for a dietary change based on human and environmental health reasons. In this context, the Center for Studies on Food Policies and Economics (CEPEA), the Argentine Catholic University (UCA) through its Nutrition program and the Argentine Network of Food Banks (RedBdeA) with the support of a promoter group made up of prominent professionals decided to jointly promote the “Comer Mejor” program as an initiative to promote food and nutrition education.

  • The purpose of “Comer Mejor” is to produce sustainable changes that improve the gaps in nutritional quality and diversify the diet of the Argentine population considering its various particularities. The initial focus will be the foods and food groups with the greatest deficit and yet an important source of essential nutrients: vegetables, fruits, legumes, grains, cereals and wholemeal flours, yogurt and fermented foods. The program will also address culinary practices, purchase and use of food that, together with a diverse diet, play a key role in a healthy and sustainable dietary change. 
  • Furthermore, considering that the Frontal Food Labeling Law comes into force, "Eat Better" also has the purpose of informing and educating the population about warnings or black seals, of so that they can identify and differentiate foods in line with what the food guides suggest.  Through a web platform that will be available in the next few days ( ar) and social networks, information on each of the food groups and front labeling will be disseminated, as well as different tips, suggestions and recipes for preparations that exemplify the concepts on which “Eat Better” is based. 


To take note. In order to advance in logistics challenges that allow making its processes more efficient and sustainable through the incorporation of new technologies, CCU, with the support of ChileGlobal Ventures, Fundación Chile's venture capital area, launched the third cycle of the 6th version of the Regional Open Innovation Challenge, INNPACTA. This cycle is focused on the search for technology-based startups from around the world that have validated businesses and technologies ready to implement in Chile and/or Argentina, with a focus on efficiency and precision in the logistics chain; optimization of primary and secondary logistics; last Mille; and sustainable logistics.

  • In order to identify those innovators who are designing new responses for the future of the beverage industry and its stages of the value chain, the entire process will be carried out under a corporate venturing model. Meanwhile, the winner will be selected at a demo day and will receive US$7,000 and the opportunity to develop a pilot of their innovation with CCU. Additionally, it will be analyzed by the ChileGlobal Ventures search and selection team with the possibility of being included in its startup portfolio and accessing one of its financing lines. Applications for the third cycle will be open until September 11 at

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