We all know how harmful discarded plastic is to the world’s oceans, but it’s not actually the biggest pollutant.
According to data collected by the non-profit organisation Ocean Conservancy, which has been holding beach cleanups since 1986, cigarette butts are actually the worst culprit.
A total of more than 60 million cigarette butts have been collected over 32 years, NBC News states, citing the report.
Contrary to popular belief, cigarette filters are not biodegradable, meaning they can release nicotine, arsenic and lead into water, which is then consumed by sea creatures and eventually passed back into the human food chain.
While campaigns to ban or recycle plastic bags, bottles and straws have become more common, the discarded cigarette butt problem has not been given the same level of media exposure, but that may be about to change.
Environmentalists are now calling for “greener” solutions for the production of cigarette filters, but they are also calling on the public to be more mindful of where they discard their cigarette butts.
According to NBC News, industry focus groups have revealed most people prefer to “flick” their butts, thinking it was acceptable because of the mistaken belief that filters were biodegradable.
It has led for some to call for a ban on the use of cigarette filters altogether.
“The idea to get rid of the useless part of this product is finally gaining traction in the public,” Californian politician Mark Stone told NBC News.
“I hope that the legislature soon follows the popular sentiment.”