Climate Health Medical

Tobacco companies to clean cigarette butts from public places in Spain


HQ Team

January 4, 2023: Spain has passed a new decree on Packaging and Packaging Waste to reduce single-use plastics and plastic waste in the country that will also force tobacco companies to clean up cigarette butts from public spaces. The environmental measures under the regulations include a ban on single-use plastic cutlery and plates, polystyrene cups, plastic straws, cotton buds, and plastic food packaging.

The law will also encompass tobacco companies, which will be forced to clean up millions of cigarette buts under this radical plan as it is aimed at aligning with a European Union directive that limits the use of single-use plastics and obliges tobacco firms to take responsibility for the mess they create.

From Friday, January 6, tobacco firms will have to foot the bill to clean up all discarded butts. Further, cigarette manufacturers will also have to educate their customers on the issue of discarding their butts in public places and the impact it has on the environment.

Spain has already banned smoking in most of its 500 odd beaches. However, it is not clear at this time how they plan to implement the measures to clean up and for the companies to take cognisance. Earlier in the year, the Catalan government proposed a scheme where citizens could redeem €0.20 for every cigarette butt returned, with the move expected to add around €4 to a pack of 20 which currently retails at around €5.

According to one Catalan study, the cost to tobacco firms could reach 1 billion euros which will most likely be passed on to smokers in the form of a hike in the cost of a pack of cigarettes and other tobacco products. And this cost hike will ultimately dissuade people from the habit, according to the government.  

Isaac Peraire, head of the Catalan waste agency, told El Periódico earlier this week, “We want to put a stop to the present situation where around 70% of cigarette butts end up either on the ground or in the sea.”

Cigarette butts major pollutants

According to an Ocean Conservancy NGO, cigarette butts take around 10 years to decompose and are full of chemicals and toxins. They are the major source of pollution of our oceans. It is estimated that around 5 billion make their way into our oceans each year, more than plastic bags and bottles.

“Roughly 4.5 trillion cigarette filters pollute our oceans, rivers, city sidewalks, parks, soil and beaches every year”, according to Dr Ruediger Krech, Director of Health Promotion at WHO. According to the WHO, cleaning cigarette butts costs  China roughly $2.6 billion (per year), India roughly $766 million, and Brazil and Germany over $200 million each.

Spain has a higher smoking rate per adult compared to the EU. Latest government figures show that around one in five Spaniards (22%) smoke, compared to the EU average of 18.4%. Men are the biggest users of tobacco products, 23.3% compared to 16.4% of women.

In a similar move, New Zealand has passed a law to ban cigarettes in the island country by 2025.

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