Clean Ocean Action

Beach Sweeps Related Stories

Each year cigarette filters are the most abundant item collected during Clean Ocean Action's Beach Sweeps. This is a problem that is not unique to New Jersey, but is a national problem.


Cigarette filters were added to the datacards used by Clean Ocean Action in 1990. Since that time, over 200,000 cigarette filters have been removed from New Jersey's beaches. This year 41,509 cigarette filters were collected. This was the largest number ever collected during the Beach Sweeps. Although this number seems high, what does it truly represent?


If you look at an average smoker that smokes one pack of cigarettes a day that smoker uses 7,300 cigarettes a year producing 2.7 pounds of cigarette filters, filling a volume of about one gallon of waste product per year. From this, we can determine that the collected 41,509 cigarette filters represent less than 6 smokers. While not all smokers litter, it is apparent that the majority do. The 33,843 cigarette filters collected from New Jersey's beaches represent a small fraction of filters introduced into the environment in 2004. In 1995, 487 billion cigarettes were smoked in the United States.


Cigarette filters are more than an aesthetic problem. The filter of cigarettes are made of cellulose acetate, a plastic that degrades slowly in the environment. They are designed to accumulate vapors and particulate smoke components. They trap carcinogenic chemicals that smokers don't want in their bodies and these cancer causing agents are introduced into the environment when the cigarette is not disposed of properly.


In 1998, Kathleen Register from Clean Virginia Waterways ran experiments to look at the effects of discarded cigarette filters on the environment. She noted that there were a multitude of studies on cigarette smoke and secondary smoke, but she could not find any studies on discarded cigarette filters. Her study looked at the effects of discarded cigarette butts on the water flea, Daphnia magna. Daphnia magna is one of the organisms most studied in biological response to contamination bioassays. Daphnia, often called a water flea, is a crustacean found in most freshwater environments.


The results of her research show that cigarette butts are not only an eyesore, the chemicals that leach out of the used cigarette filter are a biohazard to at least one aquatic species. The study showed that toxic chemicals leached from discarded cigarette filters at a concentration of one used filter per two gallons of water presented a biohazard to the water flea. The study also demonstrated that the leaching toxic chemicals from discarded cigarette filters occurs within an hour after being exposed to water.


This study identifies used cigarette filters as a biohazard and should be used to help educate the public about the problem of improperly discarded cigarette filters. Discarding cigarette butts on streets, parking lots, walkways, lawns and beaches is a violation of litter laws and has now been proven to have an adverse impact on the environment. It is important that smokers' littering behavior be modified to decrease this source of pollution.


For more information on Kathleen Register's study, click here.


49 Avenel Blvd.
Long Branch, NJ 07740

Field Office:

Gateway National Recreation Area
Sandy Hook, New Jersey

Voice: (732) 872-0111
FAX: (732) 872-8041

Candid/Guidestar "Essential nonprofit data, tools, and resources"

Charity Navigator, "Your Guide to Intelligent Giving"