Published: 19 July 2019 at 08:34
New research led by ARU academics is first to show damage caused to plants
New research has discovered that cigarette butts – the most common form of litter on the planet – significantly reduce plant growth.
Led by academics from Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) and published today in the journal Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety, the study is the first to show the damage that cigarette butts can cause to plants.
The researchers found that the presence of cigarette butts in the soil reduces the germination success and shoot length (the length of the stem) of clover by 27% and 28% respectively, while root biomass (root weight) reduced by 57%. For grass, germination success reduced by 10% and shoot length by 13%.
Most cigarette butts contain a filter made of cellulose acetate fibre, a type of a bioplastic. Filters from unsmoked cigarettes had almost the same effect on plant growth as used filters, indicating that the damage to plants is caused by the filter itself, even without the additional toxins released from the burning of the tobacco. Control experiments contained pieces of wood of identical shape and size as the cigarette butts.
It is estimated that around 4.5 trillion cigarette butts are littered every year, making them the most pervasive form of plastic pollution on the planet. As part of this study, the academics sampled locations around the city of Cambridge and found areas with as many as 128 discarded cigarette butts per square metre.
Lead author Dr Dannielle Green, Senior Lecturer in Biology at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), said:
Co-author Dr Bas Boots, Lecturer in Biology at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), added: