Ybor City Halloween smoking cigar
Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

Countries Which Are the Biggest Polluters of Cigarette Butts in the World — Visualized

No ifs, ands, or butts about it.

Earth Day on Friday, April 22, 2022 is quickly approaching; and cigarettes are the proverbial butts which contribute to some of the pollution which exists around the world — but you might be rather surprised as to which country is considered the “smokiest” in the world pertaining to how many cigarette butts people dispose every year.

Countries Which Are the Biggest Polluters of Cigarette Butts in the World — Visualized

To find out which countries produce the most cigarette butts, data for cigarette butt cubic meter volume comes from Omni Calculator and is based on 170 cigarettes filling one liter of volume. The quantity of cigarette butts littered globally per year comes from Science Direct.

Cubic meter volume of objects and landmarks calculated from measurements were sourced from Wikipedia and the Google Maps distance measurement tool. Volumes of buildings — factoring in the building and object shape — were compared to cubic meter volume of cigarette butts littered per year, month, week, day, and minute.

Global smoking rates were sourced from the World Bank. Global cigarette consumption sourced from Tobacco Atlas.

This article written by G. John Cole for HouseFresh gives more details about which countries have the highest smoking rates and dispose of the most cigarette butts; and I have been given express written permission to use the maps and the verbatim text from the aforementioned article in this article. While HouseFresh has endeavored to ensure the information provided is accurate and current, it cannot guarantee it. Neither HouseFresh nor The Gate accept any liability — and assume no responsibility — for any and all information which is presented in this article.

With that disclaimer out of the way, here is the article.

Watch Landmarks in the United States Fill With Cigarette Butts — From the White House to Central Park

Cigarettes are killing our planet.

We smoke 4.5 trillion cigarettes every year — enough to reach Saturn and back. But we don’t send the butts to Saturn. We crush them under our shoes.

To better understand the scale of the issue, HouseFresh crunched the numbers to visualize the human-made structures that would get crushed in a minute, day, week, month, and year of cigarette butts — from an Olympic boxing ring to New York’s Central Park.

Europeans Leave the Most Cigarette Butts Per Person

So, who’s dropping all those butts? In Andorra and Luxembourg, the average consumption is over 17 cigarettes a day or 6,000/year – and that’s averaged out across the whole population, including non-smokers.

Nearly half (46.6.%) of Andorra’s high school children smoke at least occasionally, which is a bad start. Tobacco is a major crop in Andorra, and smoking culture is prevalent. This also means that ‘cigarette tourism’ is high in the country, with consumption figures bumped by visitors stocking up on cheap packs. The country has only recently banned smoking in bars and cigarette advertising.

Click on the map for an enlarged view. Source: HouseFresh.

European countries account for seven of the top 10 consumers and 32 of the top 50. Canada (1,021/year) has the highest smoking rate in North America, but the US (1,017) is almost tied. Up to 40% of items collected in American litter clean-ups are butts, which are the most littered item on US roads, drains, parks, and beaches.

Pacific Islands Have Highest Smoker Rates

Is it just a few bad apples or a national habit? Next, we looked at smoking rates by percentage of population. We found that Pacific islands Nauru, Kiribati, and Tuvalu have the highest smoking rates in the world, with more smokers than non-smokers in both Nauru and Kiribati. This corner of the world, including Oceania and parts of Asia, has high smoking rates in general.

There are moves to reduce tobacco consumption in the Pacific, although these are health initiatives rather than environmental ones. As with Andorra in Europe, tobacco cultivation and smoking culture go hand in hand on some Pacific islands and south Asian countries. And there is a lower taboo against female smoking among Pacific islanders than in other developing nations, pushing up the overall rate.

Click on the map for an enlarged view. Source: HouseFresh.

Europeans still put in a good effort, with more than 30% of the population in 12 European countries hard at work producing cigarette butts. In the States, just under a quarter (24.3%) smoke – the world’s sixtieth highest rate. African countries generally have the lowest smoker rates – but these rates are rising, with one in five adolescents now sparking up.

The Environmental Impact of Cigarette Butts

Cigarette butts are made of plastic: Cellulose acetate. They also contain chemicals and heavy metals. Guess what: they don’t biodegrade. It is possible to recycle them – but most end up on the streets, in the sea, and in the landfill.

Cigarette butts stifle plant growth. For example, their presence reduces grass reproduction by 10% and the root biomass of clover by 57%. Not good for a planet fighting climate change. When a pet ingests nicotine, it can cause “excessive salivation, excitement, tremors, vomiting, lack of coordination, weakness, convulsions, respiratory failure and even death.” One butt in a liter of water will kill half the fish.

But it’s not one pet or a liter of seawater that we’re coping with: it’s 4.5 trillion cigarette ends. And smokers have made a habit of the ‘flick’ that’s as hard to kick as the smoke itself.

In one minute, humans dump 8.5 million cigarette butts, equal to 50 cubic meters – or an Olympic boxing ring.

In one day, we dump 12.3 billion cigarette butts, equal to 72,522m3 – a bit bigger than the Lincoln Memorial.

In one week, we dump 86.4 billion cigarette butts – that’s 509,050m3 or TWO White Houses.

In one month, we dump 375 billion cigarette butts, which equals 2,205,882m3 or one Capitol Building.

In one year, we dump 4.5 TRILLION cigarette butts, equaling 26,470,588m3 and enough to cover New York’s Central Park.

How to Stub Out Stubbing It Out

It is estimated that the US spends $4 billion per year dealing with cigarette litter. This total alone should raise eyebrows, but the cost is more severe than a dollars-and-cents figure suggests. Cigarette butts start forest fires and choke animals. They poison sea life and inhibit plant growth.

In addition to ramping up human health-oriented anti-smoking schemes, we need efforts to deal with the butts that continue to get produced. These efforts can include:

  • Developing and mandating alternative, biodegradable filters.
  • Punishing/incentivizing big tobacco producers to initiate change.
  • Mainstreaming viable butt disposal policy and infrastructure (laws and recycling facilities).
  • Developing a greater sense of collective community responsibility in schools.

It’s your school/workplace/constituency: are you ready to kick up a stink?

Final Boarding Call

Andorra La Vella
Photograph ©2018 by Brian Cohen.

I was not all that surprised to see the Principality of Andorra top the list of the countries which dispose of the most cigarette butts in the world. Escaping the smoke from cigarettes almost seemed impossible at times while I was visiting that tiny country which is tucked away in the in the eastern Pyrenee Mountains between France to the north and Spain to the south.

I have not been to the tiny country in Micronesia named Nauru — yet, anyway — to attest to its people contributing to having the highest smoking rate in the world.

All photographs ©2015 and ©2018 by Brian Cohen.

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