We are talking about cigarette butts, or more precisely: their filters. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 4500 billion of them do not end up in the garbage every year, but in nature. Smoked filters are the most carelessly discarded object on earth. Contrary to what so many smokers believe, the filters are very slow to biodegrade, if at all. They consist of more than 15,000 fibers of the durable plastic cellulose acetate. They only decompose when UV light and certain microorganisms interact in the right way, which often takes years.

Until then, the cellulose acetate wafts through rivers, lakes and oceans as microplastics. It penetrates into the stomachs of fish and birds and into the food cycle of humans. Thousands of toxic substances, including nicotine, arsenic, formaldehyde and heavy metals, also escape from the old dumps. As tests have shown, a single cigarette butt per liter of water is enough to kill half of the fish swimming in it. Cigarette filters, says toxicologist Bethanie Carney Almroth of the University of Gothenburg, "are toxic waste."

The tobacco industry popularized the filters in the fifties in response to research that cigarette smoke causes cancer. The filter is intended to suggest to concerned smokers that it at least partially retains dangerous ingredients in the smoke. But this is an illusion: eight million people die every year as a result of tobacco consumption. "Filters in cigarettes don't really reduce the harmful effects of smoking. From a public health point of view, they offer no benefit while polluting the environment," according to a recent report by the Belgian High Council of Health, which provides scientific advice to the country's Ministry of Health. He calls for cigarette filters to be banned throughout the EU.

To me, this sounds like an excellent idea – and it seems to be gaining quite a bit of political support. "A complete ban on disposable cigarette filters seems to be the most effective option to counteract the harmful environmental impact of this type of waste," Conservative Secretary of State Vivianne Heijnen recently told the Dutch parliament. The most useless of all products has so far been completely unjustly excluded from the ban on the sale of single-use plastic items, which has been in force since 2021. If plastic cups and cotton swabs with plastic handles have already had to disappear, it is almost imperative to end the toxic flood of filters as soon as possible. Or what do you think?


Yours, Marco Evers

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Picture of the week

This protest image is a great illusion. In fact, no one crumpled up a giant plastic bottle and threw it away in Lausanne's Louis-Bourget Park, it just looks exactly like it. The French-born artist Guillaume Legros, 34, better known as »Saype«, paints ultra-realistic pictures directly into the landscape, mainly with chalk and charcoal. » Land Art« is the name of this art movement. Saype wants to draw attention to environmental pollution with this painting. He himself is not guilty of this with his opus: his self-developed paints are biodegradable, depending on the weather, this work of art will only exist for a few weeks.

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