National No Smoking Day: Is it time to quit for you AND your planet?

This No Smoking Day, we’d like to celebrate one of our prized employee’s great success at giving up smoking in 2021. It’s been a tricky time for everybody lately and although some smokers may have been more tempted than ever to turn to the little white sticks for stress relief, Calweys’ Justyna Rurka has done fantastically well has not touched a cigarette since 20th January. With the help of the occasional nicotine patch and a lot of willpower, she no longer has cravings and classes herself firmly as a non-smoker. We’re hoping that Justyna’s success will inspire more people to quit, however if you need an extra reason to re-think your habit, maybe it’s time to consider the impact on the planet as well as your health.

Cigarette waste

With environmental issues top of the agenda for the ‘build back better’ ethos after the pandemic, it’s time to become more aware of the damage we’re causing by our everyday actions. For a long time now we’ve been acutely aware of the harmful effects smoking can have on our health. Increased taxation, eye-opening photos on packaging, and a complete ban on advertising and public display have been hugely successful at cutting down smoking in the UK, but how many people are really aware of the environmental costs as well as those on our bank balance and health?

Aside from the wider issues around the production of tabaco products including deforestation, carbon emissions and questionable labour practices, there is also the problem of waste. Although much of the cigarette is burned during the process of smoking, the remaining butts are always left behind. Cigarette butts outweigh plastic bottles and disposable masks in the word of waste and are now the single most common litter type on the world’s streets, beaches and public spaces. Due to their small size cigarette buts are often casually flicked away with disregard and as such, are costly and time-consuming to clear up. The thing is, even if these butts were easy to collect and clear up disposing of them is far from simple.

Tricky to recycle

Cigarette butts are made of non-biodegradable plastic and contain harmful chemicals making them a tricky item to recycle.  The cellulose acetate filter attached to most manufactured cigarettes is the main culprit of cigarette waste, however, filter-tipped butts are also a significant contributor.  The hazardous chemicals leaking from the butts could include lead, ethylphenol, nicotine and even arsenic, leading some groups to call for further investigation into environmental contamination with an effect on issues such as drinking water pollution.

Packaging problem

Aside from the cigarettes themselves, their packaging is also a cause for concern. Made from a combination of paper, ink, cellophane, foil and glue, the waste from cartons and boxes used for distribution and packing are also difficult to recycle. For recycling to be viable, each of these materials needs to be separated and this requires specialist processing. With 6 trillion cigarettes manufactured annually, about 300 billion packages are made for tobacco products - that’s a hell of a lot of packs that are headed to the waste stream.

Fortunately recycling and waste operatives like ourselves put non-recyclables to good use as RDF (refuse derived fuel). Ideally the best solution would be to drastically reduce this waste type or address the packaging concerns so that they are made from a single type of material and are easier to recycle. However, whilst this isn’t the case at the present moment, the best we can hope for is that more people follow Justyna’s lead and give up smoking all together.


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