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Australia’s bigger threat than plastic bags

Each one can poison about 40 litres of water, and its toxicity persists for at least seven days. And it will only get worse, experts warn.

While it took some time, Australia embraced the plastic bag and straw ban, but the biggest man-made contaminant of the world's oceans is actually cigarette butts.

Andrew Ettingshausen, a former rugby league star and host of TV series Saltwater Heroes, has thrown down an environmental challenge to Australians to help put an end to the billions of butts that end up in our waterways - and all it comes down to is throwing your butt in a rubbish bin and not flicking it on the street.

Australia’s bigger threat than plastic bags.
Australia’s bigger threat than plastic bags.

"5.6 trillion filtered cigarettes are smoked annually and it is estimated as many as two-thirds of those butts end up in the ocean," Ettingshausen said.

He has teamed up with Century Batteries to help kick off the campaign in honour of Clean Up Australia founder Ian Kiernan who died in October, aged 78.

Mr Kiernan came up with the idea for Clean Up Australia Day after sailing solo around the world in 1987.

 

Two-thirds of the 5.6 trillion filtered cigarettes that are smoked annually end up in waterways.
Two-thirds of the 5.6 trillion filtered cigarettes that are smoked annually end up in waterways.

 

One butt can poison 40 litres of water with this toxicity persisting for at least seven days.
One butt can poison 40 litres of water with this toxicity persisting for at least seven days.

"He was passionate about our oceans and in fact started Clean Up Australia after seeing immense pollution, so this would be a great legacy to him," Ettingshausen said.

"Every week when we take the boat or the 'Hobie' out to film, not only do we come across rubbish from discarded bait bags or tangled fishing line on the boat ramp and in carpark gutters, but it is nothing to see scattered butts everywhere.

"Plastic bags came to our attention because we could see them tangled inside dead marine life, whereas cigarette butts are a hidden killer."

Century Batteries national marketing manager Andy Bottoms described it as like seeing a new model car - once you see it you see them everywhere and once you start noticing butts you can't "un-see" them.

"We are the only Australian manufacturer of marine batteries, producing over 60,000 last

year - so for the next few months we will commit a portion of sales from every marine battery sold to help Clean Up Australia spread the word," Mr Bottoms said.

 

Century brand ambassador and TV fishing show host Andrew Ettingshausen with Clean Up Australia director Pip Kiernan doing their bit to promote keeping our beaches and waterways clean.
Century brand ambassador and TV fishing show host Andrew Ettingshausen with Clean Up Australia director Pip Kiernan doing their bit to promote keeping our beaches and waterways clean.

Clean Up Australia director Pip Kiernan warns that the residue in the butts contains toxic, soluble chemicals which are noxious to small crustaceans (cladocera) and bacteria.

"Just one butt can poison 40 litres of water with this toxicity persisting for at least seven days," Mr Kiernan said. "Filters trap roughly half the tar while capturing one-third of the cigarette's formaldehydes and two-thirds of its hydrogen cyanide.

"Imagine a month without rain, followed by a storm washing thousands of butts into our waterways. Aquatic life at the bottom of the food chain pay the price but so can fish mistaking them for food or birds which use them for nesting materials."

He said many smokers were unaware filters were made of plastic that was not readily biodegradable, taking up to 12 months to break down in freshwater and up to five years in seawater.


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