We’re so used to them, we don’t even see them anymore. In the street, in the parks, in the woods and, above all, on the beach. For the cigarette butts, which flood the environment imperceptibly, there was no forbidden territory outdoors. Until now. Initiatives in coastal areas are multiplying to stop a silent ecological disaster that pollutes the sea and its inhabitants.
According to an analysis carried out by the Institute of Environmental Science and Technology of the Autonomous University of Barcelona (ICTA-UAB), cigarette nozzles already account for 30.6% of all the waste found on Spanish beaches.
If each one of them takes between five and ten years to decompose, during which time it releases harmful components that affect marine fauna and water quality, it is not necessary to make many calculations to classify it as an environmental hazard.
And yet this habit of throwing a cigarette on the ground once it has been consumed is too common. Who has never seen a smoker bury a cigarette butt in the sand?
We’ll see less and less of him. This gesture is already forbidden in some coastal areas and in others prohibitions are being implemented. But the measures go beyond where the cigarette butts are thrown away. In Spain, the first smoke-free beaches have emerged, projects that aim to make society aware of the importance, on the one hand, of not smoking and, on the other, of preserving the environment.
Galicia was the first autonomous community to take a step forward in the defence of the marine ecosystem. In 2012 smoking was banned on twenty-six beaches and, little by little, the ban has been expanded to include sixty-four councils.
In spite of the incipient protests against this measure, the truth is that it has been gaining followers among the Galicians. 71.6% of users approve of this measure, according to a study by the Consellería de Sanidade, and the numbers agree, their visitors have increased considerably.
More autonomous communities
Galician success was followed by Gran Canaria, Catalonia and the Balearic Islands, where it began to be legislated in different ways. While on the Canary Island the ban on smoking is subject to fines, on the others is not economically penalized, but socially as it is not well seen that someone smokes on beaches marked as “smoke-free”.
Now, Asturias has just imposed this initiative on four of its sandbanks in a society divided by this project, supported by 52% of the population.
And, in the south, Murcia and Andalusia, two of the preferred tourist destinations on the peninsula, intend to implement this year along its many coasts after seeing good results on the beach of Motril in Granada, which in 2018 was baptized as a smoke-free beach.
The project is part of a network led by the municipalities, which not only ensure compliance with this measure, but are also responsible for evaluating and awarding the awards to the beaches according to four established levels: member, bronze, silver and gold.
After the success of its first edition, the platform La Teua Terra launches again #desentierralacolilla, an awareness project that denounces the impact of throwing the filter of the cigar on the beach. To do so, it proposes uploading photographs to the social networks of each nozzle that they find in the sand, before collecting it, of course.
This is very necessary for a citizenry that is still not very aware of the ecological damage caused by abandoning the tobacco filter in the sand. A very revealing fact, just on the Alicante beach of the Arenal de Xàbia more than 4,000 cigarette butts were collected, according to the Oceanogràfic Foundation.
A small gesture can become a great environmental solution. Because the beach is not an ashtray, let’s not use it as such.
Miniature toxic substances
Despite their tiny size, cigar filters pose a huge environmental problem. Not only did they represent 13% of the total waste collected worldwide in 2017, but each of these nozzles has the capacity to pollute between eight and ten litres of sea water.
The chemical substances they contain -nicotine, lead, arsenic, cadmium, tar… – are released when they come into contact with the sea, endangering species and organisms on the seabed, such as molluscs, fish, reptiles and even birds.
This in turn modifies the food chain and produces a drastic alteration of the aquatic ecosystem. Biologists were the first to denounce the amount of cigarette filters found in the stomachs of seabirds, turtles, fish and dolphins