Cigarette Waste. Impacts and opportunities

Every citizen can pay 21€ per year for a road cleaning of cigarette waste that should be assumed by the tobacco manufacturer.

Rezero presents the report Cigarette Waste. Impacts and opportunities from an environmental, economic and regulatory perspective which describes the environmental and economic impacts generated by cigarette waste and which presents various technical, economic and legal measures that could be implemented in Catalonia to reduce the impacts of these waste.

Cigarettes are not currently a priority on the policy agenda for prevention and
waste management, despite being one of the most abundant wastes in dispersed junk in natural and urban environments. They can cause serious environmental, economic and public health impacts.

In Catalonia, cigarette waste generates more than 2,700 tonnes of waste per year and it is estimated that globally 70% of cigarettes smoked end up on the ground or in natural spaces. These represent between 30-40% of the rubbish scattered in municipalities (in unitary terms) and are the most abundant waste on the beaches of the western Mediterranean region (25.33% of the total marine litter collected).

Collecting cigarettes from public roads and beaches is a difficult and laborious task for municipal road cleaning services, due to their small size and because the cleaning methods are not designed for unit sweeping.

Once cigarettes end up in the environment, they can cause serious environmental impacts due, on the one hand, to the non-biodegradable plastic composition (cellulose acetate) of the filters that can end up generating microplastics and, on the other hand, to the large number of toxic compounds resulting from the combustion of tobacco that accumulate in the filters which, over time, end up being transferred to the soil or water, polluting them and being a threat to different types of ecosystems and living organisms.

The collection of cigarettes and their management are currently fully assumed by the public administrations and it is estimated that in Catalan municipalities the costs of road cleaning of cigarettes can range between 12 – 21 € per person / year, being higher in coastal municipalities. To these costs must be added those caused by the cleaning of other places where they also accumulate, such as sewers and water treatment plants and indirect costs linked to their impact on ecosystems, human health, tourism, and other economic activities.

Currently, in Catalonia the main measures implemented to reduce the impacts caused by this waste have been insufficient: awareness campaigns, distribution of portable ashtrays specially designed for use on the beach, installation of containers to deposit waste from the cigarettes and smoke-free areas on some beaches.

Cigarette waste is waste that is not specifically regulated by state regulations and it is the municipalities or the autonomous communities, if they deem it appropriate, who must impose some type of regulation in this area. Within the framework of the Preliminary Draft of the new Law on the prevention and management of waste and the efficient use of resources in Catalonia, Rezero considers it essential to deploy extended producer responsibility systems for these products, as set out in Directive (EU) 2019/904 on reducing the impact of single-use plastics. The Extended Producer Responsibility is based on the fact that the producer must be responsible for the management and costs of waste products he puts on the market, as an incentive for products to be designed to be easier to reuse or recycle and reduce its impact. Currently less than half of product waste is subject to the Extended Producer Liability systems, including waste from tobacco products.

Rezero considers the Deposit, Return and Return System (SDDR) as a key instrument to comply with the principle of the Extended Producer Responsibility and ensure that producers bear the costs of collection (infrastructure and logistics) and treatment of cigarettes, as well as the costs of cleaning the environment. This instrument would drastically reduce its littering and achieve the selective collection of the cigarette residue for their treatment and material recovery. Elsewhere, the application of a tax on cigarettes has been chosen to achieve the dual objective of reducing tobacco consumption and tackling the high costs of cleaning cigarette waste, and in France, it has been articulated. a producer-funded body to manage the treatment of tobacco product waste.

It is essential that economic, regulatory, technical and communicative instruments be deployed to avoid or minimize the impacts caused by waste from tobacco products.