Cigarette butts are the most common type of litter in the ocean and waterways. They primarily end up as marine debris when they aren’t disposed of properly on land and are then transported by runoff and stormwater through watersheds to the coasts.

Cigarette butts are pervasive, long-lasting, and toxic. Most cigarette filters are made out of cellulose acetate, a plastic-like material that does not degrade easily. The fibers in cigarette filters behave just like plastics in our oceans - the UV rays from our sun may break the fibers down into smaller pieces, but they don’t disappear. One solid filter ends up being thousands of tiny microplastics that negatively impact marine organisms and habitats.

Here’s what can be done to keep cigarette butts from spoiling the ocean and waterways:

  • If you smoke, don’t flick your butt! Place it in a proper receptacle.  This also helps prevent wildfires.
  • Organize cleanups in your local community. Make sure you document your findings with NOAA’s Marine Debris Tracker App.
  • Be an environmental steward in your own community. Spread awareness about cigarette butt litter.
  • Worried about the smell from cigarettes in your pocket? Purchase a pocket ashtray! These trays can come in the form of metal boxes or vinyl pouches, fit in your pocket, purse, or backpack, and extinguish cigarettes until they can be properly disposed of in the trash.
  • Recycle your butts! Although it is not common, there are some municipalities and organizations like TerraCycle that will actually recycle your filters. Check to see if there any programs in your area.