IT seems many peopl do not realise they are causing litter when they throw a cigarette butt on the ground.
It can result in a €150 on-the-spot fine under the Litter Act.
Cigarette waste, which includes butts, packets, matches, matchboxes and wrapping, now accounts for 54% of all litter, according to the Litter Pollution Monitoring System run by the Department of the Environment, followed by chewing gum on 15% and packaging, 12%.
The problem has obviously worsened since the smoking ban in pubs was introduced 11 years ago and, with smokers having to go outside for their puff, areas around pubs have become litter blackspots.
In some cases, publicans work to remedy the problem by providing smoking areas and ashtrays.
The other day while driving through Killarney, Co Kerry, I saw a young man who had walked out of a premises stamping a cigarette on the street before disappearing down a lane. Judging by his uniform he may have been working in the establishment from which he emerged and, therefore, earning his living from tourism.
For several years, a volunteer corps has been working to keep the town litter-free and attractive to the hundreds of thousands of visitors that come to enjoy the area’s far-famed natural beauty.
The volunteers have been rewarded with Killarney’s outright success in the Tidy Towns’ competition and top awards that come regularly.
But it’s an ongoing struggle. Up and down the country, councils are trying to deal with street litter. Each pub, shop, hotel and restaurant is responsible for keeping the footpath outside their premises litter-free.
In Galway, the city council says cigarette butts are the most prevalent form of litter and blackspots include areas outside pubs and at roundabouts/junctions.
City officials have researched the phenomenon and point out that cigarette butts are made from a form of plastic — not from cotton, wool or paper as is a common misperception. It can take up to 12 years for a cigarette end to break down.
Filter-captured smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals, including 43 known cancer-causing agents. As the filter in a butt starts to decompose, it releases these toxic chemicals into the environment.
Scientific studies show that, within an hour of being in contact with water, a cigarette butt will start to leach toxic chemicals and one cigarette can contaminate up to eight litres of water.
Cigarette butts have been found in the stomachs of fish, birds, whales and other marine creatures which mistake them for food.
Cigarettes are now believed to be one of the main causes of litter, globally, with the average smoker throwing away up to 5,000 butts in their lifetime.
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