Let’s talk about cigarette butts

Jennie Ridyard

Jennie Ridyard

A German petition has attracted 55,000 signatures in one week. If someone feels like starting a South African campaign, please show me where to sign.

We – you and I – have a butt problem. A big butt problem.

Let’s talk about cigarette butts – and particularly the clever campaign that a chap from Berlin started where a 20c (euro cents!) deposit would be paid on every cigarette sold, to be returned when the butt is handed in for proper disposal.

Why? Because 4.5 billion butts are thrown away globally each year, and by thrown away I mean tossed on the ground, or quietly buried on the beach, or flicked across the garden or out the car window, or ground into the pavement … And often, so often, the culprits are people who would not normally dream of littering.

It’s not rubbish, the logic seems to go: it’s just a teeny butt. It even looks biodegradable, though looks are deceiving.

Apart from being generally icky, each carelessly discarded butt contains nicotine and lead, not to mention countless other chemicals which are leached into the soil and the environment – and every single butt is capable of polluting 200l of groundwater.

Multiply that by 4.5 billion and you’ll get … errr … a fright. And a lot of polluted water. So let’s simplify: one box of cigarettes can contaminate 4,000l of water. A deposit on a pack would add €4 to the cost, which would be refunded once the smoker returned the empty pack with all the butts inside.

In South Africa, we could perhaps charge R2 deposit per cigarette, or R40 for the pack. Smokers wouldn’t lose a cent so long as they played nicely, but the world would gain so much. No more digging on the beach and finding discarded fag ends, no more confused birds carrying butts to their babies, no more toddlers sticking the things in their mouths, no more unsightly cigarette filters in ever gutter, on every street.

And for a country like ours, where fresh water is scarce, where veld fires are frequently caused by butts flicked from cars, surely the thought of literally throwing R2 out the window would give smokers cause to put their cigarette out properly, to tuck it away safely to claim back their deposit later.

A German petition has attracted 55,000 signatures in one week. If someone feels like starting a South African campaign, please show me where to sign.

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