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Move over, plastic straws — this is the real threat to the oceans

Cigarette butts have been the highest collected trash item across the world's beaches every year since it launched the movement, according to the Cigarette Butt Pollution Project. (SEBASTIEN BOZON/AFP/Getty Images)

While environmentalists zero in on things like banning straws, plastic bags, and party balloons, one item that activists and local and state governments should perhaps be focusing on more is the abundance of cigarette butts littering the world. According to a new study, cigarette butts are the biggest component to ocean trash.

What are the details?

The study, published by NBC News on Monday, reports that the "No. 1 man-made contaminant in the world's oceans" is the cigarette butt.

A group of activists, however, is looking to change that and cut down on the carcinogenic flotsam by getting rid of cigarette filters altogether.

Thomas Novotny, a professor of public health at San Diego State University, has worked to dispel the notion that filters make cigarettes safer.

"It's pretty clear there is no health benefit from filters," Novotny said. "They are just a marketing tool. And they make it easier for people to smoke."

Novotny said that removing filters is an easy "no-brainer" in cutting down ocean waste. The Cigarette Butt Pollution Project, which Novotny founded, discovered that of 5.6 trillion cigarettes manufactured annually have filters made of cellulose acetate, which is a type of plastic that can take 10 or more years to disintegrate. The Cigarette Butt Pollution Project determined that approximately two-thirds of that 5.6 trillion end up being irresponsibly disposed of every year.

The outlet reported that the Ocean Conservancy launched an annual beach cleanup in 1986 to help rid the shores and oceans of trash. According to the outlet, cigarette butts have been the highest collected trash item across the world's beaches every year since it launched the movement.

On the whole, the report suggests that cigarette butts far outweigh the environmental dangers and damages of plastic straws and other more innocuous items.

Anything else?

Novotny added that cigarette companies such as R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and Phillip Morris USA have been aware of the implications of mass cigarette butt saturation for many years, and have brainstormed ideas to cut down on the massive cigarette litter that permeates the environment on an annual basis such as portable ashtrays, filter recycling campaigns, and anti-litter initiatives.

Despite these efforts to control the disposal of cigarette butts, studies have indicated that most smokers preferred, or were conditioned, to simply toss their cigarette butts onto the ground for various reasons.

Novotny said that one of the only ways he can see out of the cigarette butt inundation is if the government can get involved to regulate cigarette butts, in whichever means necessary.

According to the outlet, lawmakers backing these types of anti-butt proposals have not made much progress in securing deals or talks with fellow legislators who receive campaign contributions from tobacco industry giants.

Novotny hopes that the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, and the American Lung Association could step in and help out where legislators may fail, for health and for environment.

Anything else?

In May, Alaska Airlines announced that it would be phasing out straws in lieu of drink stirrers.

In July, Seattle announced a citywide ban on plastic straws, and Starbucks said that the franchise will also phase out all straw use by 2020.

You can read more about the war on plastic straws here.

One last thing…
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