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Forget Plastic Straws, Cigarette Butts Are The Most Collected Trash On The World's Beaches

The modest plastic straw: once a simple tool to help people drink liquids more effectively, now - the number one threat to the environment.

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All jokes aside, ocean pollution is a serious issue and is impossibly complex to even begin to tackle. Environmentalists made considerable strides in educating the public on the pollutants that are the biggest threat to ocean's health.

First, it started with raising awareness of the harmful effects of plastic bags, then came plastic eating utensils, after that came the ubiquitous straw, and finally the cigarette butt - a silent killer - in more ways than one. 

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This is a surprising piece of information. We all know that plastic is bad for the environment, but cigarette butts, aren't they made of cotton or something? Not exactly.

5.6 trillion cigarettes are manufactured worldwide in a given year with filters made of cellulose acetate, a form of plastic that can take a decade or more to decompose.

Just to give you an example to illustrate the extent of the issue, a nonprofit environmental advocacy group based in Washington, D.C called The Ocean Conservancy has sponsored a beach cleanup every year since the mid-80s. And for 32 years, cigarette butts have been the single most collected item on the world’s beaches; a total of more than 60 million collected over that time!

These aren't only butts that are dropped by beachgoers, these are butts washed into the oceans from many storm drains, streams and rivers around the world.  

That said, identifying a harmful pollutant is the easy part. Education is vital, but it's only the first tiny baby step down a long, dark, winding path.

California lawmakers and a worldwide surfing organization are among those arguing cigarette filters should be banned, but no matter how many generic "X is destroying the ocean" articles we read, nothing will ever improve unless we collectively try to make a difference. 

Optimistically, some organizations have stepped up to develop greener cig butts.  Greenbutts, a San Diego-based startup developed a filter made of organic materials. The filters are made of Manila hemp, plant-based Tencel, wood pulp and bound together by a natural starch. Companies like this are the true embodiment of the now cliche phrase "be the change you want to see in the world."  


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