Cigarette butts polluting Melbourne’s waterways

Written by Ella McNicol

Cigarettes are the most commonly picked up item during litter clean up. Countless numbers of them are tossed by smokers, many eventually ending up polluting waterways.

Surveys have found that approximately 10,500 cigarettes butts are disposed of on the streets of Melbourne every day, meaning nearly four million cigarette butts are littered in the city area alone per year.

It is estimated that The City of Melbourne spend $13 million dollars every year on collection and disposal of waste.

Littered cigarettes in a Melbourne city doorway.

Enviropoles and The City of Melbourne installed cigarette bins throughout the city in an effort to reduce the impact cigarettes have on the ecosystem and environment. After collection the contents of the waste inserts are separated into solid waste, which is incinerated for fuel and energy and liquid waste which is deposited at an EPA approved trade waste point.

An Enviropole attached to a rubbish bin in Melbourne’s CBD.

More than 200,000 cigarette butts are collected every week by the 367 Enviropoles cigarette bins installed across the city. Over 9 million butts still end up in landfill each year. Countless cigarettes are also incorrectly disposed of, ending up in the Yarra River and eventually the ocean and beaches.

Melbourne University Lecturer and sustainability expert, Dr Cathy Oke told ABC Radio Melbourne’s Libbi Gorr, “Recycling the cigarette butts has a lower global warming impact than other forms of getting rid of them like incineration or putting them into landfill.” -style

Despite efforts from environmental groups and The City of Melbourne, each year around one billion items of litter enter Melbourne waterways. Cigarettes account for a third of this figure.  Cigarette filters contain non-biodegradable plastics which can take up to 15 years to break down.

Aquamarine life commonly mistake cigarette butts for food, causing premature death for sea-life. When larger sea-life ingests entire filters they suffer from false satiation due to the cigarette expanding and giving a sense of fullness. This causes the affected marine creature to not eat, eventually dying from starvation or poisoning. Cigarette filters are made up of thousands of tiny fibres that separate in water, meaning a filter becomes an issue for smaller marine life as the smaller fibres are easily consumed -why the same par?.

Andrew Kelly from the Yarra Riverkeeper Association told Leader Community News, “It is hugely disappointing and really frustrating that people just don’t get the connection between dumping and the impact on our waterways.” – style

It is estimated that 95% of the litter found on Melbourne beaches comes through stormwater drains from suburban areas.

Person smoking in Melbourne.
Photo: Ella McNicol

About the author

Ella McNicol