Cigarette butts are the poster child of pollution and litter, and now, Spain is taking action to combat this serious problem. On Friday, a new law came into effect that requires tobacco companies to pay for the clean-up of millions of cigarette butts discarded in public places. The law is part of a larger environmental bill that also aims to reduce single-use plastic pollution by banning items such as cutlery, plates, straws, polystyrene cups, and cotton buds.
Spain takes action against cigarette litter
The move is in line with the European Union’s directive to hold polluters accountable for their litter. There are currently no details on how the cigarette butt clean-up will be implemented or the estimated cost of operations. However, one study conducted in the northeastern region of Catalonia estimated that the cost of cleaning up cigarette butts could be as high as $22 per citizen per year, amounting to over $1 billion across Spain’s population of 48 million.
Cigarette butts are the world’s most ubiquitous form of litter by a wide margin. Made of plastic cellulose acetate, cigarette butts take at least 10 years to decompose and emit toxic substances like arsenic and lead as they break down. Each year, more than 5 billion cigarette butts are discarded in the ocean, making them the most common type of marine waste, surpassing plastic bags and bottles.
As such, the impacts of cigarette litter go beyond being a simple eyesore in urban environments. Wildlife can mistake cigarette butts for food, leading to injury or death. In addition, the chemicals present in cigarette butts can leach into soil and water, potentially contaminating these resources and hurting us all.
Spain’s new law is a step in the right direction, but it will be important to closely monitor its implementation and effectiveness. Reducing cigarette litter will require a combination of approaches, including increasing access to public ashtrays, implementing stronger penalties for littering, and promoting the use of alternatives to traditional cigarettes, such as e-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco products.
In addition to the new law, about 500 beaches in Spain already prohibit smoking, with fines of up to $2,000 for those who don’t abide. This helps to reduce cigarette litter in these areas and protects the health of both beachgoers and marine life. Together with the new bill targetting tobacco companies for cleanup, these measures have catapulted Spain to the forefront of countries seeking to crack down on what the UN describes as “the most discarded waste item worldwide”
As climate change and pollution continue to threaten the health of our planet and its inhabitants, it is crucial that we take action to reduce litter and protect the environment. Spain’s new law is a promising start, and other countries would do well to follow suit.