Cigarettes and their filters made from plastic account for almost 50 per cent of the waste collected along the Vancouver and Victoria shorelines, says a study analyzing data from volunteer coastline cleanups in British Columbia.
University of British Columbia researchers said Thursday the findings could help guide future waste management strategies, especially when it comes to reducing plastic pollution.
Study co-author Cassandra Konecny, a zoology master's student, said cigarette filters are made of plastic and when butts are dropped on the street they move from drainage systems to the ocean and shorelines.
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She said many people believe cigarette butts are biodegradable, but they are a source of plastic pollution.
"There's been studies looking at how a lot of smokers don't consider throwing cigarette butts on the ground littering," Konecny said. "For a lot of people, it's pretty shocking to hear that they are made of plastic and I don't think it's very common knowledge."
Representatives from Canada's tobacco industry could not be reached for comment.
The researchers examined data from 1,226 voluntary cleanup initiatives organized as Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup events along B.C.'s coastline from 2013 to 2016. Konecny said 80 to 90 per cent of the waste collected was some form of plastic. The types of plastic collected varied at different geographical locations, but half the litter gathered in the Vancouver and Victoria area was from cigarette debris.
"Lots of cigarettes, cigarette filters down here in the southern Strait of Georgia, but up in the North Coast we get a lot more items that we categorized as shoreline recreation, and those include plastic bottles and plastic bags," she said.
Konecny said campaigns to ban single-use plastic straws have gained attention but the shoreline waste study signals cigarette litter is also an area in need of focus.
"For example, we've heard a lot recently about banning single-use plastic straws in the city of Vancouver. But if the data shows that smoking is a big issue and mostly we're just picking up cigarettes, that's perhaps a good place to start."