We need to butt out better


Popular fisherman ET is throwing down a new environment challenge to Australians to stop a threat to the ocean– cigarette butts. 

As ET, he may have won our hearts on the rugby field, but as a TV fisherman Andrew Ettinghausen has teamed with Australia’s only marine battery manufacturer Century Batteries and Clean Up Australia in a new campaign with two billion reasons to care.

“5.6 trillion filtered cigarettes are smoked annually and it is estimated as many as two thirds of those butts end up in the ocean,” Ettinghausen said. “That’s over 770,000 tonnes and billions of butts.

“The late Ian Keirnan was passionate about our oceans and in fact started Clean Up Australia after seeing immense pollution so this would be a great legacy to him.  

“We embraced the plastic bag and plastic straw campaigns, but the biggest man-made contaminant of the world’s oceans is actually cigarette butts. Every week when we take the boat or the Hobie out to film not only do we come across rubbish from discarded bait bags or tangled fishing line on the boat ramp and in the carpark gutters but it is nothing to see scattered butts everywhere. Plastic bags came to our attention because we could see them tangled inside dead marine life, whereas cigarette butts are a hidden killer.” 

Century Batteries, national marketing manager Andy Bottoms said once he realised how bad butts were he started to notice them everywhere. 

“It’s like when you get a new car you start seeing that car everywhere,” Bottoms said. “And once your attention has been drawn to them you cannot ‘unsee’ them. It begs belief just how many there are and how many you can see.

“We are the only Australian manufacturer of marine batteries, producing over 60,000 last year – so for the next few months we will commit a portion of sales from every marine battery sold to help Clean Up Australia spread the word.”

Clean Up Australia director Pip Kiernan said many smokers were unaware filters were made of plastic that was not readily biodegradable, taking up to 12 months to break down in freshwater and up to 5 years in seawater.

“The residue in the butts contains toxic, soluble chemicals which are noxious to small crustaceans (cladocerans) and bacteria,” Pip said.  “Just one butt can poison 40 litres of water with this toxicity persisting for at least seven days. Filters trap roughly half the tar while capturing one third of the cigarettes formaldehydes and two thirds of its hydrogen cyanide.

“Imagine a month without rain, followed by a storm washing thousands of butts into our waterways. Aquatic life at the bottom of the food chain pay the price but so can fish mistaking them for food or birds which use them for nesting materials.”