Cigarette butt littering is an enormous problem. It is estimated that 4.5 trillion butts are littered worldwide each year.
In Australia alone, it is estimated that 7 billions of butts are littered annually.
While it is acknowledged that this figure is difficult to quantify, we do know that 23 billion cigarettes were consumed nationally in 2002. If we assume that 50% were smoked outdoors, studies show that the propensity to litter is around 59% – making the estimated butt littering figure around 7 billion.
Whether this figure is somewhat higher or somewhat lower really doesn't matter. What is important is that there are a lot of butts being littered!
Cigarette butts have consistently made it into the top ten items picked up in the Clean Up Australia Day Rubbish Report since it started in 1990. In 2010, littered butts were the most commonly found item during the clean up for the fifteenth year running. One in five waste items removed was a cigarette butt.
According to the Keep Australia Beautiful National Litter Index 2010-11 Annual Report, cigarette butts remain the most pervasive litter item nationally.
An average of 29 cigarette butts per 1,000m² was identified across all national sites during the 2010-11 year. This compares to an overall average number of items of 61.
Cigarette butts therefore represent around 48% of all littered items by number nationally.
Butts may only be small, but they are still very important when it comes to the litter stream because what they lack in size they more than make up for in number.