Flat Preloader Icon


Here’s a challenge for designers, innovators and entrepreneurs: cigarette butts.

Research shows that 65% of cigarette filters become litter. An estimated 766 571 metric tons of cigarette filters make their way into the environment every year. On its own, South Africa creates ±15bn cigarette butts a year. The  majority of these end up in the ocean, and this is why it matters:

  • The cellulose acetate fibre in the filter takes 10 to 15 years to fully degrade. And while butts are degrading, they break down into smaller, more digestible pieces, are mistaken for food, and are ingested by marine wildlife;
  • They are a chemical bomb. There is little difference between the filter and the full cigarette as the harmful chemicals are supposed to be captured in the butt.

As long as cigarette smoking is a thing, safe cigarette filter disposal is going to be requirement – and we’ve been doing a terrible job of it so far.

There are several options:

Capturing them: Smokers don’t have the mindset to walk any distance to dispose of their butts – most in fact don’t think twice about grinding them out wherever they’re standing and walking away. UK research indicates 90% of smokers don’t consider this littering; contrarily, US research found that even when smokers know they’re littering, 75% of them still toss their butts. How do we change this mindset and behaviour?

Circular design requires producers of products to take responsible for environmentally friendly ways of using or disposing of the waste of that product. Since it’s not practicable to think about returning cigarette butts to British American Tobacco and the rest of the tobacco crew, the option is to design butts that don’t create problems – biodegradable filters or alternatives to filters, and chemicals that lose their toxicity quickly.

There’s a growing movement to have cigarette filters classified as single-use plastics, which themselves are ever closer to being banned. When that happens, Big Tobacco is going to be scrambling. We’re seeing a $$$$ opportunity.

Thanks to Stellenbosch University’s Institute for Future Studies for the ideas.