Questions and Answers

Q&A Cigarette Butt Litter

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How many cigarettes are sold annually?

About 5.6 trillion cigarettes are sold worldwide every year.

How much plastic waste do cigarette butts represent?

With an average weight of 0.2g per cigarette butt, it amounts to 1.1 million tons. This represents about 0.3 percent of all the plastic produced worldwide annually (359 million tons).

What are cigarette butts made of?

Cigarette butts consist of:

  • Filter (made of cellulose acetate, a bioplastic made from wood pulp)
  • Fine paper
  • Unburned tobacco remains
  • Ash, smoke residues, and other remains from cigarette combustion

What’s the purpose of cigarette filters?

The purpose of the cigarette filter is to capture some of the particulates from the smoke and to dilute substances found in the smoke such as smoke residues, nicotine, and carbon monoxide. It helps smokers handle and stub out the cigarette.

How much does a cigarette butt weigh?

A cigarette butt of a fully smoked cigarette weighs about 0.2g. Cigarette butts found on the ground may weigh more, if they have been only partially smoked (some tobacco and paper remaining), and/or if they been in contact with dirt or humidity.

Are cigarette filters biodegradable?

Cellulose acetate biodegrades over several months to several years, depending on the surrounding conditions. Therefore, it cannot be characterized as biodegradable; however, it will not accumulate in the environment over time. Tobacco companies have been researching cigarette filters with higher degradability for many years, but no better alternative to cellulose acetate has yet been found. While research for filters with higher degradability continues, one should assume that the cigarette filter in its current form will remain an integral part of the product.

Do cigarette filters transform into microplastics?

Cigarette filters are made of cellulose acetate, a bioplastic made from wood cellulose. It is very different from conventional plastics made from petrochemicals. It will fully biodegrade over time, although not quickly enough to be meet biodegradability standards, which require biodegradability in only a few months. There is no evidence that cigarette butts end up as microplastics.

Are cigarette butts recyclable?

Technically, yes, they can be recycled; however, it would require 1) a wide collection scheme with extensive transports and logistics, and 2) large amounts of water, chemicals, and energy to clean them, which—from an environmental impact perspective—would cancel the benefits of recycling.

Are cigarette butts classified as toxic waste?

Although cigarette butts contain smoke residues that make them smelly, they do not contain any substance in hazardous amounts, and are not classified as hazardous waste. Cigarette butts should be disposed with general household waste. They should never be littered or end up in the natural environment.

Can cigarettes be made without filters?

Smokers have a clear preference for cigarettes with filters, which prevent pieces of tobacco from entering the mouth and give a different taste to the smoke. Taking the filter out would require a change in the composition of tobacco fill to meet emissions requirements. A ban on cigarette filters as an attempt to reduce littering would also impact smokers who do not litter. Filter bans have previously been suggested by lawmakers and rejected.

Can cigarettes be made with paper filters?

The filter needs to withstand variations in humidity and have enough resilience and durability to be machined, stored and handled and not have a negative taste impact. The best option available today is cellulose acetate, a bioplastic made from wood cellulose.


Paper filters give a different taste to the cigarette, and in most cases do not meet customer taste. Changing filters from cellulose acetate to cellulose would not do much to protect resources as both are sourced from pulp. Up to three times more paper is needed than cellulose acetate, which would result in more wood pulp being needed. Furthermore, paper filters might be seen as less environmentally damaging to smokers than current filters, so that more cigarette butts may be littered—the opposite of what we want.

Can filters be made without plastics?

Today, filters are made with cellulose acetate (CA), a renewable and partially biodegradable material. Many alternative cigarette filter materials have been evaluated over the years. To be acceptable, any new material has to satisfy four criteria:

  1. Good filtration efficiency and consistency, similar to CA filters
  2. Significant reduction in total carbon footprint and/or significant improvement in marine, aquatic, and soil biodegradation versus a CA filter
  3. Acceptable taste characteristics, as a product must be successful in the market to have the desired positive impact on the environment
  4. Commercially viable at scale (all material science development starts in the laboratory and needs to be conducive to industrialization at large scale and at competitive costs)


No better alternative to CA has yet been found, but cigarette makers are continuing to explore options as new materials and processes become available.

How many cigarette butts are improperly disposed of?

There are many reports that try to approximate the incidence of cigarette butt litter in public, but there is very little conclusive measured data available today. Many litter surveys cite that between one-third and two-thirds of cigarette butts are littered. Recently, a statistically significant field research was conducted in France that suggested that one out of three cigarettes was being littered in public.


Source: ENOTIKO, OPTAE, France 2019

Are deposit systems for cigarettes and tobacco products a good solution to discourage littering?

No. While it may seem like an effective method, it would be complex to run, with considerable challenges such as odor and hygiene. The best way to reduce cigarette butt littering is to encourage and enable proper disposal of consumer waste and drive consumer behavior change. The European Commission states that “rather than proposing new legislation introducing a deposit system, […] the focus should be on proper implementation of the measures introduced in the Single Use Plastic Directive, which are appropriate and proportionate to lead to a significant reduction of the environmental impact caused by post-consumption waste of tobacco products with filters. The introduction of a deposit return scheme for tobacco products is not considered necessary or appropriate to achieve these aims.”