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Smokers are escalating a “ticking environmental timebomb” by putting their cigarettes down drains or leaving them lying on streets, pavements and roads, experts warned today.
Cigarette filters are the most littered item in England and local authorities fork out an estimated £40 million a year in total to clear cigarettes from our neighbourhoods.
The problem has become so concerning that agencies and experts believe a “ticking environmental timebomb” is about to go off.
Kingdom Local Authority Support (LAS), which deals with litter, fly-tipping and anti-social behaviour on behalf of a number of local authorities in England and Wales, says cigarette filters are harming green spaces and polluting our rivers.
“Putting cigarette ends down the drain or leaving them on streets, pavements and roads could fuel a ticking environmental timebomb which is already blighting our landscapes and harming our precious green spaces,” John Roberts, director of the firm, said today.
“There needs to be a cultural change to litter. It has often been described as a civil offence – but it is not. If a person is found to be littering, they could face a fine of up to £2,500. This is a criminal offence.
“I believe we need to see a change in how litter is shown in the media. If you turn on the TV or a film we will see actors dropping litter, including cigarette ends, that wrongly reinforces that it is acceptable to litter. This need to change if we are ever going to eradicate the litter problem.”
More than two million of pieces of litter are dropped in England every day.
The warning comes after concerns were shared sewage is being pumped into water beside some UK beaches, leading to fears for those swimming or using the area for other activities.
Monitors that were meant to be checking the sewage levels were either not working or were never installed in the first place. That may mean cigarette ends dumped in drains may end up polluting our rivers and water streams.
Measures put in the Environment Bill looked at tobacco companies stumping up the cost for those cigarette ends discarded in public places.
At the time it was announced in 2021, Environment Minister, Rebecca Pow, said: “Cigarette butts are a blight on our communities, littering our streets or ending up washed down the drain and polluting our rivers and oceans.
“We must all take action to protect our environment. We are committed to making sure that the tobacco industry plays its part.
“That is why we are exploring how cigarette companies can be held fully accountable for the unsightly scourge of litter created by their products.”
A spokesman for the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has since said: “We have commissioned research into potential regulatory measures to tackle waste from cigarettes, and expect to provide an update later this year.”
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