Planet vs Plastics | Earth Day 2024


Earth Day, first held in 1970, is an opportunity to raise awareness of our fundamental relationship with the environment around us and the vital need to protect and sustain it. The theme for Earth Day 2024 is “Planet vs Plastics,” which is particularly relevant for one of ASH’s most important current campaigns.

The world is drowning in plastic.

Microplastics are turning up in animals, salt, and our own bodies. Doing something about plastic is a matter vital to human health – our current trajectory is unsustainable. But it’s unlikely we can get rid of plastic completely. There are some uses for plastic that have a very positive impact on humans, especially in health and safety. For those types of plastic, we will need to find ways to reduce, reuse and recycle. And determining which plastics and plastic products are necessary is complicated and the line is fuzzy.

On the other end of the spectrum are plastics that are unnecessary and should be done away with entirely. At the top of that list, of course, is plastic tobacco product waste. It is more than unnecessary – this plastic is attached to the world’s biggest cause of preventable death.

Cigarette butts are the #1 source of plastic pollution.

Worldwide, 4.5 trillion cigarette butts end up in the environment annually. They are not biodegradable. And e-cigarette plastic waste is increasing rapidly, with the added environmental burden of batteries intrinsic to the product.

There is no downstream solution to plastic tobacco waste. The idea of collecting trillions of butts is laughable. Even if we could, what then? We’d have mountains of toxic, carcinogenic waste to process, and the cellulose acetate in cigarette filters can’t be recycled into much even if you could remove the toxins, which we can’t. And even if we could do that, what would we do with thousands of barrels of toxic waste?

No, the only solution is upstream. We need to ban cigarette filters and disposable vapes (at a minimum). It is an obvious and significant first step in addressing plastic pollution. And bonus – it would likely save millions of lives.

Stay tuned for updates on our blog this week from the 4th round of negotiations for the UN Treaty to End Plastic Pollution, INC-4. Our team is in Ottawa, Canada to advocate for a ban on cigarette filters and safeguarding the treaty from “stakeholders” with conflicts of interest (like Big Tobacco).