As many now understand, cigarette smoke is toxic to the human body. A single cigarette contains over 600 chemicals, 69 of which are known to cause cancer. A lit cigarette, however, can produce a deadly cocktail containing over 7,000 toxic chemicals. In addition, an estimated 1.69 billion pounds of cigarette waste is left on city streets annually. However, this is only the beginning.
Cigarette waste makes its way into our rivers, lakes, and oceans. They drift sometimes for miles, washing up on the shores of forests and beaches. Sometimes hikers leave cigarette litter behind. In any scenario, it is estimated by the U.S. Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that 1 million sea birds and over 100,000 mammals die each year due to poisoning associated with cigarette debris.
Cigarette Litter and Contaminants
It is estimated that 4.5 trillion cigarette butts are tossed out every year, in a joint study published on Tobacco Control. Out of these, a good number ends up finding their way to places of nature and wildlife. These places are areas of refuge for wild animals and birds. They are places where the impact of humankind have little meaning. However, traces of our societal follies make their way into their domain, where they wreak havoc on the natural order of the wild.
Cigarette butts are comprised of cellulose acetate. This is a plastic that may break down into smaller pieces, however, it will never biodegrade. This material further meets all city and state department’s guidelines for what is considered as toxic waste. Once these butts are consumed, whether accidental or out of curiosity, the toxins from the material and tobacco remnants can make the animal very sick and can even kill them.
Human Impact Where Wild Things Roam
It is of no debate that human activity is impacting numerous regions of wildlife. However, while the definition of “progress” may be up for debate, what constitutes the poisoning of nature is not. The toxic chemicals found in cigarettes and used butts are not only poisonous when ingested, they can also contaminate the soil, as well. This leaves trees, plants, flowers, bushes, and grass susceptible to pollution. These are places which are frequented by numerous species of wildlife including birds, insects, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals. To contaminate an area, means to disrupt an ecosystem as a whole.
Disrupting an Ecosystem
The disruption of an ecosystem can have disastrous results which can be far reaching. According to the World Wildlife Fund, an ecosystem is considered to be a self-contained, a very dynamic system that is made up of a population of varying species which resides in its physical environment.
To introduce foreign, toxic chemicals to an ecosystem means to disrupt its natural sustainability, and/or progress. It impedes the natural order, and begins to break it down piece by piece. This can have a domino effect. Once smaller organisms are infected, they can begin to die out – dwindling in numbers. This can cause a scarce food source for some animals, while ingestion of these organisms can be toxic to others. This begins a chain reaction that leads all the way up the food chain. In fact, some scientists are theorizing that these impacts are leading some predators, such as sharks and lions, to begin feeding in regions outside of their normal hunting grounds. This may lead to more human contact, which in turn may lead to increased attacks.
The destruction of these ecosystems, and the endangering of our wildlife has been addressed by certain organizations which have dedicated their lives to making a difference. However, we need more support. By joining forces, resources can be increased which can lead to bigger changes. As we come together, our reach can be extended and more people can be educated. Creating awareness can be a valuable tool in our crusade to save our planet’s natural environment. Starting campaigns that could potentially reach millions of people – policy makers and citizens alike – might just have the impact we have been striving for. Mother Nature depends on us, our decisions, and our ability to work together.