New Delhi: Tobacco, in addition to health hazards was also causing severe environment pollution global.e-cigarette and cigarette wastes if not  disposed of properly, enter into environment and pollutes water, air, and land with toxic chemicals, heavy metals and residual nicotine.

 An estimated 766,571 metric tons of cigarette butts annually enters into the environment. 

Cigarette butts are the second most frequently littered item globally and  often disposed off on streets, sidewalks, and other public areas from where it enter into drains and ultimately end up polluting rivers, beaches, and oceans.

School of Preventive Oncology, Chairman Dr Dhirendra Narayan Sinha said that Cellulose acetate-based cigarette filter were most littered form of plastic in the world. With close to 4.5 trillion butts polluting the global environment, this form of litter accounts for close to 26,454 tonnes of waste generated annually in India, he added.

 Dr  Sinha said that cigarette butts were  made of cellulose acetate, a kind of non-biodegradable plastic filters which takes almost 10 years to completely decompose. These butts pile up on shorelines or at the bottom of bodies of water which was not only injurious to health but also poses a great threat to the environment.

He said that the single-use e-cigarette products had the potential to
turn into tons of e-cigarette waste and their disposal has emerged as a major challenge globally.

 e-cigarette cartridges contain plastic, electronic and chemical waste which do not degrade, he said adding that inexpensive, flavored disposable e-cigarettes such as Puff Bar contribute to e-cigarette waste.

Cigarette butts comprise 30%-40% of items collected in annual coastal/urban cleanups. 14,211,962 cigarette butts were collected on beaches and waterways globally in 2019, making them the world’s second most common type of litter after food wrappers.

Dr Sinha said that e-cigarette-related wastes were more serious environmental threat than cigarette butts as it contains metal, circuitry, single-use plastic cartridges, batteries and toxic chemicals in e-liquids. The manufacturers of e-cigarette do not provide any disposal guidance.

Referring to a survey of Truth Initiative, Dr Sinha said that nearly half (46.9%) of e-cigarette consumers informed that   the e-cigarette/vape device does not provide any disposal information. More than half (57.8%) of the aware consumers who vaped found it inconvenient to dispose of e-cigarette waste .

Speaking about hazardous impacts of cigarette butts , Dr Sinha said that cigarette filters were made from cellulose acetate, a plastic which do not degrade under normal situation. It takes nearly nine months for a cigarette butt to degrade under optimal conditions, he said adding that the Sun may break cigarette butts down into smaller pieces of waste which dilute into water and soil. 

He said that more than 100 billion cigarette butts get dumped annually in the landfills of India. 

Studies show that organic compounds like nicotine, pesticide residues and metal seep from cigarette butts into aquatic ecosystems were toxic to fish and microorganisms.

According to a study, the chemicals  leached from a single cigarette butt  if remain for 24 hours in a liter of water release enough toxins to kill 50 percent of the saltwater and freshwater fish exposed to it for 96 hours.

Cigarette butts can be a source for heavy metal contamination in water, which may harm local organisms, he said.

The soil where cigarette butts were littered showed some carcinogenic hydrocarbons, he maintained.

According to him e-cigarette waste cannot biodegrade even under severe conditions and its cartridges discarded on streets get pushed around by weather events and   break down into microplastics and chemicals that flow into storm drains to pollute waterways and wildlife.

He further said that cigarette and e-cigarette waste pollute soil, beaches and waterways which was ultimately harmful for wildlife and aquatic life.

The batteries and e-cigarette devices contain hazardous substances like lead and mercury, Dr Sinha said adding that
Lithium-ion batteries in e-cigarettes some times explode and cause fire if damaged or exposed to extreme heat. 

Apart from this incompletely used liquid cartridges and refills contain nicotine salts and heavy metals, which can leach into soil and waterways or be ingested by wildlife.

 Suggesting for adopting proper disposal process, Dr Sinha said that lithium-ion batteries should be fully discharged and cooled, submerged in cold saltwater for two weeks. It should be covered  with a lid and wrapped in newspaper before putting them into trash.