Canada News

The Butt-Ugly Truth

7 May 2016 at 04:47 | 1954 views

Editor’s Note:

Aman Mohar is a Grade 11 Leadership Class student from R.C. Palmer Secondary School in Richmond, near Vancouver.

He and his group in school are currently developing an innovative product that aims to prevent cigarette butts and other debris from entering water sources. They have developed a unique, removable street storm drain filter (photo) and are looking to prevent discarded cigarette butts from entering drain inlets which directly drain into water sources because, according to Aman and his colleagues, cigarette butts are often mistaken as food by marine mammals.

Here is an article collectively written by Aman and his friends to address issues oceans and mammals face due to human beings not properly disposing of their cigarette butts and the impact of that neglect.

According to World Health Organization, it is estimated that over 15 billion cigarettes are sold each day worldwide. Over 4.5 trillion cigarette butts are littered worldwide every year – that is about 2 billion pounds of chemical trash. Cigarette filters are the number one trash item found worldwide and only 10% are properly disposed of.

It rains a lot in Vancouver; on an annual basis in the greater Vancouver region we encounter about 1200 mm of rain. When it does rain, butts from all over town get washed into storm drains carried by wind and rain, and they empty right into our water source. They pollute our water, and are ingested by wildlife. Often these filters are mistaken as food by fishes, birds and other marine mammals.

Not just thousands, not even hundreds of thousands, but millions upon millions of filters end up in our eco-system. Filters release the same toxic and cancer causing chemicals found in cigarettes such as; Benzene (chemical derived from petroleum), Ethylphenol and Arsenic. It can actually take up to 15 years for filters to degrade because of the Cellulose Acetate, a plastic material that makes up the filters.

Cigarette filters are toxic solid waste, and they negatively impact our water chemistry. The chemicals leach out of discarded butts into our streams, rivers and eventually into the Pacific Ocean.

They may be small in size; however, these little butts have the ability to do some major damage in our aquatic eco-system. They negatively affect the health of animals that humans may eventually consume as food, jeopardizing our long term health and wellbeing.

Smokers who treat outdoor spaces as public ashtrays may reconsider their behaviour when they learn that cigarette butts are made of plastic, not of cotton and paper. Worse, that cigarette butts contain chemicals that can kill some of the animals that occupy critical positions in aquatic communities. It is important that we don’t end this topic of conversation, in order to decrease this source of pollution. The possession of knowledge is power; that alone, can alleviate the problems we face today.