Cigarette butts: the incredible pollution of the seas and oceans

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A colossal amount of cigarette butts is dumped into the seas and oceans every year, with previously unsuspected but potentially major pollution of the marine environment.

We often ignore it, but cigarette butts are among the main plastic waste found in the environment. Thus, at certain times of the year, they can represent up to 40% of waste on Mediterranean beaches. It is estimated that worldwide, half a million tonnes of cigarette butts are dumped into the environment annually. However, these butts, mainly composed of plastic, are weakly biodegradable. In addition, they contain many toxic compounds from combustion, which can threaten living organisms.

A Franco-Tunisian team (Mediterranean Institute of Oceanology and National Institute of Marine Science and Technology) has set itself the objective of assessing the impact of cigarette butts on the diversity of microorganisms and the release of metals in the marine environment.

They found that:

  • Cigarette Butts increase iron, manganese and zinc concentrations in the marine environment.
  • They contribute to the acidification of sea water.
  • They modify the composition of the bacteria present in the surface sediments, by favoring the development of bacteria known to live in deep underwater hydrothermal sites, called… “black smokers”.

These unexpected and worrying observations worry scientists and should make the smoker inclined to stick his cigarette into the sand or throw his butt into the sea think twice before doing so.