What's the world's most littered plastic item? Cigarette butts
Smokers around the world buy roughly 6.5 trillion cigarettes each year. That’s 18 billion every day. While most of a cigarette’s innards and paper wrapping disintegrate when smoked, not everything gets burned. Trillions of cigarette filters—also known as butts or ends—are left over, only an estimated third of which make it into the trash. The rest are casually flung into the street or out a window.
“There's something about flicking that cigarette butt,” says Cindy Zipf, executive director of Clean Ocean Action. “It's so automatic.”
Cigarette filters are made of a plastic called cellulose acetate. When tossed into the environment, they dump not only that plastic, but also the nicotine, heavy metals, and many other chemicals they’ve absorbed into the surrounding environment.