Last year, Hastings Council brought in additional wardens to deal with littering and dog fouling. This was done through an external contractor for a year’s trial period – there was no cost to the council, as the wardens are funded by the income from the fixed penalty notices they issue. We’re intending to review the service at the end of the year’s trial and consider whether to employ wardens directly to do this.
So far, over 90% of the tickets issued have been for dropping cigarette ends. There have been complaints about this, with some smokers believing this to be unfair, and that cigarette ends aren’t really litter. But they are. And what’s more, they’re far more dangerous and damaging to the environment than other litter.
Across the globe, a staggering 4-6 trillion cigarette butts are disposed of each year. Around two-thirds of these end up in the environment. In the UK, smoking-related litter has risen dramatically since the smoking ban, as more cigarettes are smoked outside.
If you drop a crisp packet or plastic bag, it will look unsightly, but will probably get swept up. Cigarette ends, though, are small, so they often don’t get caught by routine street cleansing. When it rains, they get washed into the surface water drains. And from there, in a coastal town such as Hastings, they end up in the sea. But cigarette ends are not biodegradable. They’re made of 15,000 plastic fibre strands, held together with paper, rayon, and synthetic glue. They’re designed to capture some of the tar and nicotine from the cigarette, along with toxins in the tobacco, which include pesticides, cyanide derivatives, and benzene. They also contain toxic heavy metals, including cadmium and lead. So cigarette ends are highly poisonous. There’s enough poison in a single butt to kill a fish – one big enough to get a decent meal from. A single cigarette end dissolved in a litre of water is toxic to fish. Two hundred are enough to kill a human.
So when you throw a cigarette end onto the ground, it’s going to poison the sea, and kill fish. Not only is that environmentally bad, but it’s bad for our local fishery. As a small, inshore fleet, they’ll be fishing in the area where the fish are most likely to encounter cigarette butts. So that will reduce fish stocks. Not by huge numbers perhaps, but as we don’t know how many cigarette butts on Hastings streets end up in the sea, it’s impossible to estimate. So why take the risk? Why would we want to risk poisoning the fish off our shores? I should add though that there’s no evidence that eating cigarette-contaminated fish presents any risk to humans, so don’t let that put you off buying the excellent, sustainably-caught fresh fish from our local fishery.
So if you smoke, think about the environmental damage you’re causing if you just chuck your cigarette end on the ground. And don’t do it. If you do, be aware that you could get a fixed penalty notice and have to pay £80. So I want our wardens to continue to issue fines wherever they see someone dispose of a cigarette end thoughtlessly. We need to stop poisoning our seas. If fining inconsiderate smokers helps us to achieve that, then so much the better.