No butts when it comes to filters say MCS and ASH Scotland

By: Clare Fischer
Date posted: 11 July 2019

MCS and ASH Scotland say that cigarette filters must be considered alongside straws and cups in the Cabinet Secretary’s brief to the Scottish Government Advisory Expert Panel on Environmental Charging and Other Measures which advises on sustainable changes in consumer and producer behaviour.

Yes we need those who use cigarettes to dispose of them properly, but can’t we also have action at the top of the supply chain? Do they have to be made of plastic in the first place?

Catherine Gemmell,
MCS Scotland Conservation Officer

The two charities have today (June 11 2019) written to the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham MSP, explaining that with cigarette butts clearly identified as one of the key components of single-use marine litter, it is hard to see how a credible action plan to reduce single-use plastic waste in our oceans could possibly exclude them.

In the letter, MCS and ASH Scotland - the charity that takes action to reduce the harm caused by tobacco - said almost all of the four billion cigarette butts discarded each year in Scotland are made of a cellulose acetate plastic.

They state:‘Whilst this form of plastic does degrade in certain conditions, it can take up to 12 years, breaking down into progressively smaller pieces while at the same time leaching out thousands of chemicals, many of which are toxic to marine life.’

Last year’s MCS-organised Great British Beach Clean saw volunteers record over 1,500 cigarette stubs on the 135 Scottish beaches they cleaned and surveyed in just one weekend, whilst globally a staggering 2,412,151 were recorded by volunteers on the Saturday of the International Coastal Clean-up last September.

The joint letter concludes: ‘We believe that plastic cigarette filters should be categorised alongside plastic cotton-bud stems, straws and cups as optional consumer choices, and be the subject of appropriate regulatory action. Yet cigarette filters have been a neglected element of the plastics debate. The European Union, through the Single Use Plastics Directive (“Reduction of the impact of certain plastic products on the environment”), has recognised cigarette butts as one of the top 10 most commonly found items on our beaches. However, unlike some other single use plastic items which have been subject to a ban or reduction, cigarettes will only be subject to an Extended Producer Responsibility scheme which will contribute to covering clean-up costs.’

John Watson, Deputy Chief Executive ASH (Action on Smoking and Health) Scotland, said: “Interestingly the tobacco industry suggests that filters should be not be included in current considerations because they “are not made of a petrochemical plastic”. It seems to me that the question is not over where a product comes from, but where it ends up and what harm it causes when it gets there. This would include the world’s oceans, where cigarette butts release toxins and could be ingested by wildlife.”

Catherine Gemmell, MCS Scotland Conservation Officer, said: “To stop the plastic tide for good we need radical change at every level – yes we need those who use cigarettes to dispose of them properly, but can’t we also have action at the top of the supply chain? Do they have to be made of plastic in the first place? If the Expert Panel can investigate measures to change or reduce the amount of plastic entering our oceans from cigarette filters and then have the Scottish Government lead the way in implementing them, we will have taken a massive step towards the plastic free seas Scotland deserves.”

Actions you can take

  1. Download our 'Living without single-use Plastic' guide
  2. Join the Plastic Challenge

Did you know?…

MCS first launched the Good Beach Guide in 1987 as a book to highlight the woeful state of the UK’s bathing waters

Plastic has been found in the stomachs of almost all marine species including fish, birds, whales, dolphins, seals and turtles

Since the carrier bag charge came in across the UK, the Great British Beach Clean has recorded almost 50% fewer bags on beaches