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Biodegradable cigarette butts are eco-friendly, right? Not so, says SU study

This makes the 'stompies' tossed away by the non-thinkers among the world's smokers a leading cause of environmental pollution.

It’s estimated that 5.6 TRILLION cigarette butts are discarded on the planet every year.

This makes the ‘stompies’ tossed away by the non-thinkers among the world’s smokers a leading cause of environmental pollution.

Many nicotine addicts are also not aware that there are smokes available that boast “biodegradable” butts.

However, a Stellenbosch University (SU) study’s now found that even these so-called environmentally friendly cigarettes can have unintended consequences for the environment.

The SU research project was carried out by a group of third-year Microbiology students.

“The students asked, if these biodegradable butts degrade so much faster than their plastic alternatives, would they then not have more of an impact on bacterial communities in soil, as that is where most cigarette butts land up?”

Their findings have now been published in the international journal Environmental Science and Pollution Research.

Koketso Sachane interviews Elizaveta (Lisa) Koroleva, one of the researchers on the team.

It is a world-wide issue that I don’t think people are always aware of.

Elizaveta Koroleva, MSc student – SU Microbiology department

While biodegradability is very important, she says, their study shows a lot of other factors need to be taken into consideration when developing sustainable products.

Add to that the fact that many smokers don’t realise that normal cigarettes are not biodegradable, full stop.

All the cellulose acetate that makes up the filters also pollutes the environment because it doesn’t break down. We’re not even talking about the other toxic compounds the butts also contain!

Elizaveta Koroleva, MSc student – SU Microbiology department

In our study we find that there are higher concentrations of metal in those biodegradable cigarettes which do have unintended consequences for the environment.

Elizaveta Koroleva, MSc student – SU Microbiology department

This, in short, is the research paper’s conclusion:

“Although biodegradable cigarettes are marketed as more environmentally friendly, the impact which the increased metal concentrations has in these cigarettes is concerning and represents a potential source of toxic pollution and environmental damage.”

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