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Taking Action for International Day of Zero Waste

March 30th is the International Day of Zero Waste, to draw attention to the lack of sustainability in the way the world currently works. While we may differ on solutions, there is no longer doubt that we can’t keep going like this indefinitely. We are poisoning our planet and thereby poisoning ourselves. If we don’t do something about it, nature surely will, and that won’t go well for humans.

The aspiration in combatting environmental harm is, of course, to get to a place of sustainability as quickly as possible and with the least disruption and the least cost. That will be hard overall, and likely require some painful choices. But it’s not all hard. There is waste that results from products that do nothing positive for humanity, and in fact are one of the biggest blights in the history of humanity. You already know I’m talking about tobacco.

Tobacco butts are the number one source of trash, and the number one source of plastic trash. The cigarettes they were attached to are the number one cause of avoidable death, taking over eight million lives a year. An estimated 4.5 trillion butts enter the environment every year. If placed end-to-end, that would circle the Earth three times, and if that were possible it would be a far better place for them than being blown and washed into our waterways and soil.

Getting rid of cigarettes permanently would be a huge step in addressing our climate pressures, while saving hundreds of millions of lives over the coming decades.

And that’s just cigarettes.

The number of vaping devices tossed into the environment is growing dramatically every year. And vapes bring the added environmental threat of batteries imbedded in the plastic. Tossing them in the garbage is little better. Vapes in the refuse stream are responsible for thousands of fires every year, as well as injury and even death to sanitation workers.

We can’t clean up or recycle our way out of this.

There is no way to collect even a tiny fraction of cigarette butts or discarded vapes. Even if we could, what then? We’d have mountains of toxic, non-biodegradable, non-recyclable refuse. Separating the batteries in vapes is difficult, dangerous, and costly, and there’s not much that can be done with the plastic. It is a myth that all plastic is endlessly recyclable.

There is no “downstream” solution to the tobacco product waste problem. Our only option is to ban the sale of the products.

This should be a no-brainer. If we’re not willing to give up commercial tobacco products to save our planet, what would we be willing to do?


Make a donation today to help ASH end the harm caused by tobacco products on our health and our environment.