Villain: Cigarette Butts
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Villain: Cigarette Butts

Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains of 2007––the people, places, and things that we’ve either fallen head over heels in love with or developed uncontrollable rage towards over the past twelve months. Get your dose, starting Boxing Day and running into the new year, three times a day––sunrise, noon, and sunset.
There were obvious benefits to 2006’s Smoke Free Ontario Act, which did away with smoking in public areas and enclosed workplaces. The elimination of self-contained smoking sections, however, brought a disgusting side-effect: mounds of used cigarette butts scattered on the sidewalk outside bars and restaurants. Even sandpails and ashbins provided at the doors of some venues don’t help the problem much, and smokers who normally wouldn’t just toss their trash on the ground don’t seem to consider used cigarettes as litter, despite butts being ubiquitous underfoot.
An American study showed that, worldwide, smokers toss at least 4.5 trillion butts on the ground every year, and that’s not only revolting to look at, but causes significant environmental damage. Cigarette filters are made of non-biodegradable polymer acetate (read: plastic), and discarded butts start fires, kill small animals, and are the most common item washing up on beaches. A 2006 City of Toronto litter audit [PDF] found that cigarette butts were the fourth most common small litter item, after chewing gum, paper, and glass pieces.
So—Toronto’s smokers need to step up and find proper disposal options, just as bars and restaurants should consider providing receptacles for their customers. Significant environmental problems aside, the used cigarette debris fields are just plain nasty to look at (well, maybe not for everyone).
Photo by Melsky from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.