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Wales’s Beaches Worst in Great Britain for Cigarette Butt Litter

(Adobe Stock)

New figures reveal the number of cigarette butts littered on Welsh beaches has more than doubled in a year, making Wales the worst nation in Great Britain for cigarette waste on beaches.

The Marine Conservation Society 2021 survey of more than 3,500 meters of Welsh coastline show that despite a decline in overall beach litter, cigarette waste has reached an all-time high.

The survey found an average of 64.2 cigarette butts per 100 metres of Welsh beach, a stark rise from 32.6 in 2019, and 9.5 in 2020.

In response, tobacco control action-group, ASH Wales, and the Marine Conservation Society have called for a ban on plastic in cigarette filters, and direct action to reduce smoking-related waste.

The survey shows that Wales holds the highest number of littered butts in Great Britain in 2021, with more than double that of England with an average of 31 butts per 100 metres, and Scotland at 9.4.

The results were obtained through the Marine Conservation Society’s annual Great Beach Clean, which took place from 17th – 26th September this year, and saw Welsh volunteers clear litter from local streets, parks and over 3,765 metres of coastline.

On a global scale 4.5 trillion cigarette butts are discarded each year, making cigarette butts one of the most littered items on earth. Many cigarette butts contain cellulose acetate, a type of plastic which takes up to 12 years to biodegrade. Cigarette butts are ultimately harmful to the environment, as they are filled with micro-plastics, tar and nicotine which effect wildlife and natural habitats.

Suzanne Cass, CEO of ASH Wales said: ‘’Wales boasts some of the UK’s most iconic beaches, and it is upsetting to see that cigarette butt litter has more than doubled in the last year. Cigarettes not only pose a risk to public health, but also presents a significant risk to the wildlife and coastline of Wales.

‘The fact that Wales holds some of the highest cigarette butt waste in Great Britain is shocking. Our Smoke Free Beaches campaign flagged this issue in 2016, calling for voluntary smoking bans across beaches in a bid to drive down the number cigarette butts. We urge Welsh Government to either ban these harmful micro-plastics, or to create solid safeguards to protect our coastline’’.

Safeguards such as voluntary smoking bans have been a staple for the charity in reducing cigarette waste. ASH Wales Smoke Free Beaches was rolled out in 2016 and seeks to denormalise smoking in public spaces in a bid to create a cleaner environment. To date, Little Haven, Caswell and Langland Bay have joined the campaign, in a bid to create cleaner spaces for locals and tourists.

The Marine Conservation Society added to calls for action, marking that plastics in cigarette filters need to be removed.

Angie Contestabile, of the Marine Conservation Society said: “The stark increase in the amount of cigarette stubs our volunteers found on Welsh beaches this year is certainly cause for concern. Littered cigarette stubs, like many other forms of plastic pollution, are incredibly harmful to animals which call the Welsh seaside home and are one of the most prevalent items found on Welsh beach cleans. That’s why it’s so important to not only remove plastic from cigarette filters, but introduce more guidance on how to dispose of smoking-related litter while on the beach.”

The rise in cigarette litter coincides with the launch of Welsh Governments ambition to make Wales smoke-free by 2030. Earlier this month, Deputy Minister for Mental Health and Wellbeing, Lynne Neagle, launched a consultation for a strategy to drive down smoking rates in the population to 5%.

The Deputy Minister of Health and Wellbeing said smoke-free spaces are a key element of our tobacco control measures.

Deputy Minister for Mental Health and Wellbeing, Lynne Neagle, said: “I have recently announced our ambition to be smoke free by 2030 and through our public consultation we have started a conversation on how we can achieve this.

‘Wales has led in making a number of public places smoke free including playgrounds and school grounds. I recognise that smoke-free spaces can play an important role in reducing health and environmental risks. It’s important we respect our surroundings and be mindful of how our actions may impact our beautiful Welsh landscapes as well as our own health and the health of others.”

Deputy Minister for Climate Change Lee Waters said Welsh Government is now considering ways to address the cigarette-litter issue.

Deputy Minister for Climate Change Lee Waters said: “I welcome the annual beach litter surveys which provide valuable data on the litter problems affecting our marine environment.

‘It is disappointing to see people are still not disposing of their cigarette butts responsibly. There is really no excuse for this type of behaviour and the impacts it has on our beautiful coastline.

‘The Welsh Government remains committed to abolishing the most commonly littered single use plastics and we are considering the options for dealing with cigarette filters.”

Despite the significant rise in cigarette butt waste on Welsh beaches, the overall amount of Welsh litter has fallen. This year volunteers relayed that the average litter recorded per 100m was 414.4 kg, a significant decrease from 2017 where 677 kg was collected. However, it is clear more needs to be done to tackle cigarette litter on our coastline.