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Should Cigarette Companies Assume Responsibility for Litter?

March 31, 2021

The British government is considering a plan that would require tobacco companies to pay the US$55 million annual cost of cleaning up discarded cigarette butts, Reuters reports.

Cigarette butts and other smoking-related items make up 68% of the litter in England in 80% of surveyed sites. Government ministers believe regulating the cigarette industry to ensure it pays for disposal costs of its products will improve the environment and save the government time and money.

The problem of cigarette liter is not unique to England. Cigarette butts are the most abundant form of plastic waste in the world, with about 4.5 trillion butts polluting the global environment. The butts are made of cellulose acetate, a man-made plastic material, and contain toxic chemicals. As butts can take up to 10 years to completely degrade, and chemicals they release can remain in the environment beyond the life of the cigarette butt itself.

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