New plans could see tobacco companies pay for cigarette litter

7th April 2021


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  • Waste ,
  • England ,
  • UK government

Author

Simon Hughes

Tobacco companies could be forced to pay for the costs of cleaning up cigarette litter under new plans being explored by the UK government to save councils money.

An extended producer responsibility scheme for cigarette butts in England – similar to the polluter pays principle expected in the incoming Environment Bill – is among the options being looked at by ministers.

This would require the tobacco industry to pay the full disposal costs of tobacco waste products, ensuring the sector takes sufficient financial responsibility for the litter its products create.

The proposals come after research found that cigarette butts are the most commonly littered item in England, costing local authorities around £40m to clean up every year.

“Cigarette butts are a blight on our communities, littering our streets or ending up washed down the drain and polluting our rivers and oceans,” said environment minister Rebecca Pow. “We must all take action to protect our environment. We are committed to making sure that the tobacco industry plays its part. That is why we are exploring how cigarette companies can be held fully accountable for the unsightly scourge of litter created by their products.”

Despite smoking rates being at their lowest recorded level, smoking-related litter still makes up 68% of all littered items, according to research by Keep Britain Tidy. The vast majority of cigarette butts are single-use plastic and contain hundreds of toxic chemicals once smoked.

These can persist in the environment for many years and release chemicals into the air, land and water, harming plant growth and wildlife.

Public health minister, Jo Churchill, said that the UK government's ambition to make England a smoke-free country by 2030 is having a “substantial impact” on health, but said more still needs to be done.

“The environmental impact of smoking due to cigarette butt and package littering is still a major issue,” she continued.

“We will continue to look into further ways we can reduce the burden tobacco has on our health and our streets, both through the tobacco control plan, due to be published later this year, and the Environment Bill.”

Image credit: iStock

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