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Cigarette butts are toxic


Last updated 9/16/2021 at 8:26pm

This is one of the cigarette butt recycling units along the Pico Promenade, before it was vandalized.

FALLBROOK – The cigarette butt: part filter, part holder for the smoker, but toxic waste for the planet.

Cigarette butts are the most common toxic waste found in cleanups and as anyone who has participated in one of Fallbrook Beautification Alliance community clean ups knows, they are also the most familiar and yet sometimes the most difficult item to pick up.  

Every year billions of cigarette butts end up in dumpsters and landfills, or just as often tossed as litter on shorelines, parks and Fallbrook streets. That 1" filter wrapped in paper looks innocent enough, but is made of a synthetic fiber called cellulose acetate, a non-flammable thermoplastic polymer and, according to the World Health Organization, it contains "over 7000 toxic chemicals, including known human carcinogens, which leach into and accumulate in the environment."

Volunteers with FBA's Keeping Fallbrook Litter Free program, such as board member David Lynch, continue to clean streets and parks throughout Fallbrook. The diligent use FBA-provided pickers to pluck the filters from gutters and sidewalks, putting them aside to recycle with the help of FBA's partner TerraCycle. Lynch, who works to clean litter throughout historic downtown Fallbrook, has collected 15,850 cigarette butts since the start of 2021, focusing his efforts along Main Avenue and adjoining streets. (Data by Terracycle)

Terracycle has found ways to recycle not only the cigarette filter, but other cigarette waste as well. Extinguished cigarettes, cigarette filters, loose tobacco pouches, outer plastic packaging, inner foil packaging, rolling paper and ash, all can be recycled or composted.

In 2017, FBA purchased the first of three cigarette recycling disposal units, and installed them along the Pico Promenade walking path, an area traditionally found to be littered with cigarette waste. The conveniently placed units, with assistance from FBA Board Member Jean Dooley, enabled 46,678 cigarette butts to be recycled, (Terracycle) although plenty more were dropped along the path or carelessly discarded in plants or near benches.

Last month, one of the cigarette disposal units was vandalized, and removed from the promenade, leaving FBA with the task of seeking funds to replace the $100 unit.

Keeping Fallbrook Litter Free volunteers who clean litter along neighborhood streets, report that the majority of cigarette butts appear to be discarded by drivers at stop signs or driveway entrances, revealing that drivers intentionally toss the chemically infused filter, risking that their careless action may cause a fire or impact freshwater microorganisms and marine life when the substances are leached out, traveling through gutters and storm drains to the ocean.

These are all the cigarette butts collected by David Lynch in August 2021.

So what can people do? If they are a smoker, they can dispose of their waste safely and responsibly. If they can, they can sign up and start recycling their cigarette waste at

All residents can join the FBA's Keeping Fallbrook Litter Free program to pick up cigarette waste and other litter in their own neighborhood or local park, at They can also join neighbors and friends to participate in group clean ups sponsored by FBA or I Love A Clean San Diego,

Community clean ups which had been cancelled due to COVID -19 are beginning to be rescheduled with ILACSD's Coastal Clean Up day (which includes Fallbrook) scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 18.

Submitted by the Fallbrook Beautification Alliance.


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