A crack team of SAS, Marine Conservation Society (MCS) and British Naturist campaigners teamed up on Brighton naturist beach at the weekend to promote the “No Butts on the Beach!” campaign, asking smokers to dispose of their cigarette ends responsibly and keep our beaches ‘butt-free’.

SAS and MCS has seen a general increase in smoking related litter on UK beaches; with the changes to smoking restrictions and a move outdoors, this trend is likely to continue.

During the MCS Beachwatch 2006, a total of 15,782 cigarette ends were found on 358 beaches around the UK, representing 4.2% of the total litter found and the eighth most common item. That’s an average of 84.1 cigarette ends found for each kilometre of beach surveyed!  In an annual global survey, cigarette butts have been the number one item found for 17 years running and in September 2006, over 1.9 million butts were recorded from beaches around the world. (Ocean Conservancy, 2007).

Emma Snowden, MCS Litter Projects Co-ordinator said, “Trillions of cigarette butts enter the water environment every year with potentially devastating effects on marine wildlife. Cigarette butts are not biodegradable as the filters are made of a type of plastic and so persist for many years.  They have been found in the guts of whales, dolphins, sea birds, fish and turtles where they can leach toxic chemicals.”

Richard Hardy, SAS Campaigns Director says: “Cigarette butts whilst small in size are a big environmental threat! With more smokers having to smoke outside it’s vitally important that cigarette butts are disposed of properly or we can expect more of them finding their way on to beaches throughout the UK”.

Cigarettes found on the beach and in the marine environment do not all come from beach users dropping them on the beach.  Cigarette butts discarded in car parks, along pavements and in street gutters miles from the coast are washed into storm drains, streams and rivers and can eventually end up on our beaches and in our seas.  Estimates of the time it takes for a cigarette filter to degrade at sea vary from 12-15 years.

Cigarette filters are not, as commonly thought, made of paper, but cellulose acetate, a type of plastic and so persist in the environment for many years. Cigarette ends are easily mistaken for food by marine animals.  They have been found in the guts of whales, dolphins, sea birds, fish and turtles where they can leach toxic chemicals, cause inflammation of the animal’s digestive system and occasionally (if they cause a blockage of the gut), even death.

Cigarette filters, designed to absorb tar and chemicals such as cadmium, lead and arsenic, leach these chemicals into the water when the filter reaches the sea.  Experiments have shown that just one cigarette filter is toxic enough to kill water fleas in eight litres of water (K. Register, 2000).

How you can help:

If you are a smoker, to avoid cigarette littering in the street, or on beaches please take a portable ash tray/butt bin with you. Many companies sell these or you can make your own from an empty film canister.

Encourage hotels, shopping centres, bars, restaurants and other businesses to place cigarette bins outdoors.

SAS are calling on beachside bars and restaurants to make a ‘No Butts on the Beach’ pledge to ensure cigarette butts from customers now having to smoke outside, do not in fall onto the sand but into a dedicated bin for cigarettes. Over 100 have already made this pledge. To see who has signed up go to

Take part in MCS’s Adopt-a-Beach and Beachwatch project to help clean and survey beach litter and identify the sources of litter and whether cigarette ends are a problem on your beach. Contact the litter team on 01989 567807 or log onto their website at

MCS & SAS would like to thank all of the volunteers from British Naturism and Brighton and Hove council for supporting this campaign.




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