No ifs or butts

6th December 2018

The journey of a cigarette


By Tiffany Kirkwood on November 29, 2018
reported in the Western Independent

A man in his early 40s sits in the driver’s seat of a small truck. He holds a short cigarette in his right hand, gesturing with it as he speaks to his passenger. The man pauses to take another puff from the cigarette before tossing it out his window. The light changes and the truck drives away. The man will probably never think about that cigarette again. But that is not the end of this cigarette’s life.

Several vehicles press the cigarette into the black, textured asphalt. It remains on the road for days. Dark clouds fill the sky and rain cleanses the streets of disregarded rubbish and forgotten cigarettes butts. Water rushes down the road and the cigarette butt finally leaves the intersection. But only to end up down a drain. The drain leads the butt through underground pipes that end at a river. From here the river takes the cigarette to the ocean.

butt2But it’s still not done. The cigarette butt has been leaking toxins into the water the whole trip. But now in the ocean, marine wildlife might mistake it for food. If the butt is not eaten it will spend up to 10 years breaking down in the water underneath the hot sun. Tiny bits of plastic in the cigarette’s filter are released into the environment, and what was once a simple cigarette is now a dispersed mess of plastic and toxins that are seemingly impossible to remove from the environment.

The Truth Initiative released an advertisement in April 2018 naming cigarette butts as the most littered item on Earth. The Ocean Conservancy’s 2018 Cleanup Report, Building a Clean Swell, names cigarette butts as the number one item collected from beaches around the world, with 2,412,151 cigarette butts collected. Keep Australia Beautiful also names cigarette butts as the most littered item in Australia, with six out of 10 smokers littering their butts outdoors. This means approximately seven billion of the 24 billion cigarettes sold in Australia every year are being littered.


University of WA biological oceanographer lecturer Harriet Paterson says plastic has an enormous impact on the marine environment from fish to birds and all of the tiny organisms you find in the ocean.

“So, birds that feed at sea, when they scoop off the surface of the ocean they’re also likely to pick up plastic fragments,” she says.

“The plastic might have toxic chemicals on it, but they also replace food. So, you can have a bird just starving because its eaten plastic rather than food, but also some of the plastic can block their sphincters, some of their internal sphincters. So, they might be full of food but they can’t process the food, so, these birds starve.”

Plastic in cigarettes

Cigarettes are made up of a few basic components. These include tobacco, chemical additives, a filter and paper wrapping. Most people understand the health impacts of smoking tobacco, but what you might not know is that cigarette filters contain cellulose acetate, a non-biodegradable plastic.

buttEdith Cowan University addiction senior lecturer Stephen Bright says this type of plastic will not break down.

“Cigarette filters contain fibreglass and it doesn’t break down, so unlike say a piece of paper that’s going to break down very quickly the fibreglass products are not going to break down,” he says.

A cigarette filter is used to trap some of the tar and smoke particles, and make it easier to smoke. Cigarette filters were introduced as a harm reduction tool, but there is little research to support the success of this.

Western Australian Seabird Rescue president Halina Burmej says the cigarette and its filter has thousands of chemicals and hundreds of known carcinogens.

“I think there is probably a bit of a false assurance from using a filter, that somehow, it’s magically collecting all the nasty chemicals that are going to kill you and protecting your health,” she says.


Paterson explains microplastics are basically bits of plastic that are under 5mm in size.

butt“The thing is you start with a single large piece of plastic, like a water bottle, it gets into the ocean, it gets degraded by wave action, and sunshine, and salt water, and it breaks into smaller and smaller pieces,” she says.

“So, where you did have a large piece of plastic, now you’ve got a small piece of plastic, well lots of small bits of plastic, and it’s those small bits that can get consumed by animals in the ocean.”

buttKeep Australia Beautiful chairman Michael Aspinall thinks plastic breaking down to small fragments is a significant issue, even though it can be avoided.

“[Plastic is] something that can be recycled, it can be reused. It’s something that can be re-manufactured, not that we want to re-manufacture plastic bags, but there are alternatives we can use in that situation and people should be thinking about that as well, about how they can avoid using plastic wherever possible,” he says.

Burmej agrees that plastic has some uses, but not cigarettes.

“Plastics themselves have some uses, you know plastic bags or bottles are sometimes useful,” she says.

“Obviously, a cigarette does nothing but cause disease and illness, so I’m pretty angry about the way that cigarettes are marketed and pushed.”

Great Pacific Garbage Patch

All the plastic entering the marine environment has to go somewhere. Paterson explains there are 10 rivers that supply 90 per cent of the plastic to the ocean.

“Then you have these big circulation patterns in the major ocean basin and that’s what’s actually concentrating the plastic in the middle of the gyres,” she says.

“And there’s actually 11 garbage patches, five of which are major. So, two in the Pacific, two in the Atlantic, and one in the Indian Ocean.”

As stated on the Ocean Clean Up website “The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the largest accumulation of ocean plastic in the world.” The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the most significant example of how extreme plastic pollution can impact the marine environment. The website goes on to state “The GPGP covers an estimated surface area of 1.6 million square kilometres, an area twice the size of Texas or three times the size of France.”

Paterson explains fish live under the garbage patch, which then moves around the ocean.

“It has become a mechanism to transport invasive species from their natural habitat to new habitats, which could be devastating in different ways,” she says.

Impacts on animals

buttPlastic waste has a large impact on wildlife in the marine environment. Plastics are inexpensive, durable and very slow to degrade.

Up to 90 per cent of seabirds have plastic in their guts. Photo: Tiffany Kirkwood.

This makes them ideal for many products, but not ideal for the environment. Marine wildlife face issues such as entanglement, ingestion and exposure to chemicals within plastics.

As Burmej explains, certain seabird species can mistake small pieces of plastic for food and feed it to their young.

“So, you get the situation where a young Albatross chick or Shear-water chick has got a stomach full of plastic, but despite that, is slowly starving to death because there is no room in the stomach for food other than plastic,” she says.

buttBurmej says plastic can also serve as a kind of carrier for toxins that are picked up.

“So, they absorb things like heavy metals and pesticides. Things like that can actually get stuck to small pieces of plastic so when the bird or other marine life ingests or swallows that piece of plastic, it is then taking up the heavy metals or whatever, and then of course if people go and eat, let’s say a fish that’s swallowing stuff that’s covered in heavy metals, then we’re going to be getting those substances into us as well,” she says.

Who smokes?

buttAccording to the Heart Foundation in 2014/2015, one in seven (14 per cent) Australians aged 15 years and older smoked daily, with an additional 2 per cent smoking irregularly. This represents 2.5 million Australians who smoke daily, with more than 200,000 smoking irregularly.

Fremantle resident Simon Meiri has been smoking for roughly two years. Meiri says he does sometimes throw his cigarette butt on the ground, but he realises it is littering.

“It depends when and where I am as to why I throw it away,” he says.

“Sometimes it might be because I’m driving, and it’s not pleasant to have a cigarette butt just in your car with you for however long you’re still driving for. Most of the time I’ll be honest, I don’t notice doing it.

“So, I’ll maybe have a cigarette in the morning and I’ll be sitting outside and I’ll be having a coffee and I’ll be so bleary eyed to the world that I don’t even notice, and I’ll get up and I’ll stumble back inside and I’ll think, ‘hang on what did I do with that?’ and I’ll check my memory and I’ll realise I’ve thrown it just somewhere in the front garden.”

Bright suggests vaping as a more environmentally friendly alternative to smoking cigarettes as you don’t have a filter that needs to be disposed of. Bright also believes vaping is a valid harm reduction strategy. “The evidence shows that vaping is approximately 95% less harmful than smoking,” he says.

“So, it’s not saying that we’re completely eradicating the harm by moving people on to vaping, but there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence indicating that people who have tried pre-existing treatments, like nicotine replacement, and have been unsuccessful, have been able to move on to vaping and cease smoking cigarettes.” Meiri says he could potentially change to vaping instead but doesn’t see the point as liquid nicotine is illegal in Australia.

“These days I only smoke it for the nicotine so that would be fairly pointless,” he says.

What can we do?

While the impact plastic waste has on the marine environment is enormous, there are things we can do to help.

webBurmej suggests education as well as enforcement.

“From an individual level I think smokers still don’t really get that throwing a cigarette butt is littering,” she says.

“So firstly, people have to understand its littering. Secondly, I don’t know that people appreciate that once you throw a cigarette butt on the ground, it gets washed into a drain, the drain goes to the river, and the river goes to the sea.”

According to the Department of Fire and Emergency Services cigarette butt littering fines are $200 for individuals. If you litter a lit cigarette this is categorized as “littering that causes public risk” and will result in a $500 fine.

The Keep Australia Beautiful Council states in their litter statistics that 1,318 littering fines have been issued between January and September this year in Western Australia.

The West Australian reports that “discarded cigarette butts account for about 85 per cent of all litter fines handed out in WA”.

The Keep Australia Beautiful Council reports in the National Litter Index 2017/2018 that there was a marginal increase in litter items counted compared to 2016/2017. A 21.9 per cent rise in cigarette litter was the main contributor to the increase of litter counted.

butAspinall suggests people become litter spotters and reporters.

“That’s easily done off our website- just report anybody you see flicking cigarette butts out of vehicles or in association with the vehicle. I think it’s just making people aware to put them in the bin, extinguish those cigarettes when they’re finished with them. It’s education, that’s all it is, it’s just education,” he says.


buttBurmej says there a lot of small things you can do as an individual, but it it’s simply up to the individual, things aren’t going to change that much.

“The ocean is like one ecosystem, so we can talk about what we’re doing in Perth and Cottesloe Beach, but rubbish is circulating around the world and a lot in the third world, I think in Asia and Africa, people simply don’t have good rubbish collection systems and there aren’t the systems in place to stop rubbish getting into the ocean, so I guess we have to act on a global scale” she says.


Collie named 2018 Tidy Towns state winner

25th September 2018

Environment Minister Stephen Dawson  announced Collie as the 2018 Western Australia Tidy Towns winner.

Collie residents worked on a number of significant community initiatives throughout the year including revitalising and reopening the town's museum, improving the health of the local river and numerous community clean-ups.

At one Rotary Club clean-up, 120 volunteers collected 4.5 tonnes of rubbish.

The restoration of Collie's museum took a dedicated group of 60 locals, 12 months - cleaning, cataloguing, digitising thousands of photos, and repairing and upgrading displays.

The museum reopened in July 2017, and work continues to restore collections and improve accessibility for visitors.

Collie also excelled in environmental sustainability, setting up the Collie Weeds and Waterways Advisory Committee to improve the health of the Collie River.

Collie will represent WA at the national Tidy Towns awards in Smithton, Tasmania in April 2019.

Comments attributed to Environment Minister Stephen Dawson:

"The Tidy Towns awards harness the good intent which is alive and well in our communities, giving a platform to those campaigning tirelessly for a litter free and sustainable Western Australia. 

"Congratulations to Collie on a well-deserved win - Collie residents are clearly very proud of the town they live in and are consistently working hard to make a difference.

"The Collie Tidy Towns team has had a strong focus on litter and waste management for many years and has worked hard to make its piece of Western Australia, clean and environmentally sustainable."

Comments attributed to Collie-Preston MLA Mick Murray:

"I welcome the news of Collie being selected as Tidy Town of Western Australia for 2018.

"I can remember back in 2005 when Collie first embarked on a program led by a dedicated band of volunteers to tidy up both the surrounds of Collie and the image of Collie itself. It has been very obvious they have been successful, winning the Tidy Town award in 2005 and again for this year.

"Over the last few years, Collie has gone through a major transformation making it a very attractive town for both tourists and residents. This achievement has been helped immensely by the volunteers in the Tidy Town group, and we wholeheartedly thank and congratulate them."

Category winners:

Litter Prevention and Waste Management - Port and South Hedland
Young Legends - Margaret River - Ladriel Hackett
Environmental Sustainability - Esperance
Environmental Education - Cowaramup
Heritage and Culture - Dumbleyung
Community Action and Wellbeing - Ravensthorpe/Hopetoun
General Appearance - Halls Creek 

KAB Litter Grant Recipients Announced

24th August 2018

Pay day for anti-litter projects

  • $54,000 for community groups to tackle litter
  • Projects funded from Fitzroy Crossing in the North, to Albany in the State’s South

Western Australian community groups will share in more than $50,000 as part of Keep Australia Beautiful Council’s (KABC) Community Litter Grant scheme.

Environment Minister Stephen Dawson, who announced the grants during Keep Australia Beautiful Week, has congratulated 12 organisations which have received grants to tackle litter problems in their local communities.

Successful grant recipients—from Kaulkarriya Community School in the Kimberley to Albany’s Mermaid Movement and Greenskills Inc in the State’s south west—will share $54,000 for a range of anti-littering projects.

Local government authorities, community groups, small to medium sized enterprises and schools are eligible to apply for KABC’s community litter grants which are awarded annually.

Comments attributed to Environment Minister Stephen Dawson:

“These Keep Australia Beautiful Council grants support community projects that reduce litter and help change littering behaviour across our State.

“This year’s successful projects have a strong focus on litter education and waste minimisation.

“The grants provide a great incentive for community groups and individuals to develop effective strategies addressing littering—which unfortunately remains an issue in Western Australia.

“This funding supports new initiatives and promotes a cleaner, safer environment.”

Media contact: Jasmine Bamford  6552 5800   0429 654 302

2018/2019 Community Litter Grant recipients and projects:

Discovery Bay Tourism Precinct. Performance by Soul Sea Mermaids in Albany and provision of 400 stainless steel re-usable bottles to highlight the impact of plastics on the marine environment.

City of Busselton. Southwest coastal litter signage and campaign. Installing permanent interpretive litter signage at four coastal locations in the South West and addressing littering via social media, signs and banners.

Coastal Cleanup Crew. Based in Woodvale, making beach clean-ups fun, educational and accessible for all. Grant will fund a banner and educational resources to display the amount of litter picked up.

Collie Rotary Club. Litter signage to encourage the correct disposal of litter along Collie Roads.

City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder – school-based community education campaign on litter and dumping.  

Greenskills Inc Albany – Great Southern Waste Buster wash trailer for events. Potential to reduce land fill by 500kg per event.

Kaulkarriya Community School – funds for signage and an educational litter campaign.

Shire of Dalwallinu – Dalwallinu’s Recreation Precinct Litter Reduction Project, addressing the waste impacts of the $5.5m revitalisation of the recreation precinct and community hub including through the purchase of a water station for reusable water bottles.

Shire of Kojonup – back to the tap! A water bottle refill station at Apex Park, encouraging people to fill their own bottles.

Shire of Shark Bay – reusable bags to promote an anti-litter message at festivals and during the tourist season.

Western Metropolitan Regional Council – serve food not litter. A regional forum to showcase food vendors and councils who have addressed single-use disposable items. Aimed at reducing single use plastic.

Wickham Tidy Towns -- we bring the H2O – you bring your bottle to go! A portable water bottle refill station for community events.



Tidy Towns Sustainable Communities Finalists named

31st July 2018

Six Western Australian communities have been named as finalists for the Tidy Town title in Keep Australia Beautiful Council’s 2018 Tidy Towns Sustainable Communities Awards.

Collie, Greenbushes, Margaret River, Port and South Hedland, Waroona and West Arthur are all in the running for the prestigious title. The State and category winners will be announced on 21 September 2018.

Keep Australia Beautiful Council’s Chairman, Michael Aspinall, said he was impressed by the depth and diversity of this year’s entries.

“These State finalists have demonstrated to the judges their strong community engagement, partnerships, innovation and environmental initiatives,” he said.

“I congratulate communities for making positive environmental, social and economic changes and for planning for a sustainable future for their community.”

The Tidy Towns Sustainable Communities Awards are funded by the State Government through the Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Account, administered by the Waste Authority, and supported by Main Roads WA and Tourism WA.

Category finalists:

Litter Prevention & Waste Management
Port and South Hedland
Wongan Hills

Young Legends
Margaret River

Environmental Sustainability
Green Head
Port and South Hedland
Wongan Hills

Environmental Education
Mount Barker

Heritage & Culture

Community Action & Wellbeing
Margaret River
West Arthur

General Appearance
Halls Creek
West Arthur

DWER Media                                     0437 228 870    

Funding available to reduce litter

14th May 2018

Projects which aim to reduce litter and change littering behaviour are eligible for up to $10,000 funding through the Keep Australia Beautiful Council (KABC).

KABC Western Australian Chairman Michael Aspinall said individuals or groups had until 25 June to apply for a Community Litter Grant.

“We’re looking for initiatives that will make positive and lasting changes to littering and littering behaviour or trial projects that will develop a model for future initiatives,” he said.

“Priority will be given to initiatives that reduce litter and target areas such as roadsides, car parks, sporting venues and shopping areas, and focus on specific issues such as the incorrect disposal of cigarette butts and drink containers.

“Littering in public areas is a big issue in WA, so we’re keen to put our support behind people who can come up with effective strategies to address the problem in their area.”

Mr Aspinall said local area projects could secure up to $5,000 while major or regional initiatives were eligible for $10,000 grants.

Local governments, businesses, community groups and schools can apply.

Successful applicants will be announced in mid-August 2018 and projects need to be completed by the end of May 2019.

Projects that received funding in 2017 include an educational video for young children, nude food lunches at a regional school, a litter education mascot and a wash against waste trailer.

More information about the grants and application kits is available at or by calling the Grants Coordinator on 6364 6643.

Keep Australia Beautiful WA is supported by the Waste Authority and the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation.