Spanish tobacco companies to bear the clean-up cost of discarded cigarette butts

Spanish tobacco companies are to bear the clean-up cost of discarded cigarette butts, according to new environmental regulations just passed. Eugene Costello reports…

Spanish tobacco companies are to bear the clean-up costs of discarded cigarette butts, according to regulations that passed into law on Friday.

This will apply to all public places, from streets to beaches. Millions of butts are discarded in this way each year, and they release toxic elements that estimates say can take decades to break down.

Nearly 30% of Spaniards still smoke, according to The World Population Review, while the same source states that it is falling significantly in jurisdictions such as the UK at just 19.2%.

Local authorities in Catalonia are paying between €12-21 (£11-19) per inhabitant per year on road cleaning of cigarettes – with higher rates in coastal areas, says the Catalan Rezero Foundation.

Their report called cigarette waste the “most abundant waste” on the beaches of the western Mediterranean, noting that existing measures to tackle it – such as awareness campaigns and portable beach ashtrays – have been insufficient.

The proposed changes will make manufacturers responsible for collecting the butts and transporting them to waste management facilities.

The Mesa del Tabaco industry association has said it is still waiting for details on how the rules will affect them, local media say.

Inventive solutions

One imaginative measure in India is recycling cigarette butts into stuffing for soft toys and mosquito repellents, reports ‘green’ publication Euronews.

An estimated 4.5 trillion cigarette butts are littered worldwide each year, 90 per cent of which contain non-biodegradable plastic filters, says the site.

Repurposing them into a range of products, including toys and pillows, is the brainchild of businessman Naman Gupta.

“We started with 10 grams (of fibre per day) and now we are doing 1,000 kilograms… Annually we are able to recycle millions of cigarette butts,” he says.

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At his factory on the on the outskirts of New Delhi, an all-woman team manually separates the butts into fibre, paper and leftovers. They then convert the paper into a pulp, mixed with an organic binder and turned into burnable mosquito repellent.

Last year, The Times reported that in the UK chewing gum manufacturers will pay a £2m levy to clean up discarded chewing gum from the streets.

Most cigarette butts contain filters made of cellulose acetate fibre, a type of a bioplastic.

These can take years, if not decades, to break down – and microplastic pollution can hamper plant growth too, scientists say.

The new rules are part of a law passed last year banning single-use plastics such as cutlery and straws, designed to comply with a European Union directive.

Spanish tobacco companies are not the only ones to bear the clean-up cost of discarded cigarette butts. Ireland introduced similar legislation on Thursday, requiring tobacco companies to contribute to the cost of cigarette litter.

Almost half of litter in Ireland is cigarette-related, says the country’s National Litter Pollution Monitoring System.

Spain has introduced a host of sweeping measures to curb smoking in recent years. Last July, smoking was banned on all of Barcelona’s public beaches, with offenders fined €30 (£27; $32).

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