Lisa Erdle stands beside a microscope focused on a cigarette butt. The screen on the left shows the thousands
of microfibres that make up a single cigarette filter. Photo: Lisa Erdle
The snow has melted to reveal months of discarded pizza crusts, dog poop and cigarette butts. But unlike the first two things, cigarette filters aren’t biodegradable, and now the city has launched a campaign to get smokers to stop flicking them away.
Contrary to popular belief, those white sponge-like butts aren’t made from cotton or paper — instead they’re a synthetic microfibre that takes years to break down and experts say those butts are one of the most littered items in the world.
“Walking along Toronto’s waterfront, I picked up dozens of cigarette butts in 60 seconds,” said Lisa Erdle, who studies how microplastics and microfibres affect aquatic life at the University of Toronto.
Every single fish Erdle has examined from the Great Lakes has had a piece of microfibre or microplastic in its system.
“It’s probably getting into us and we don’t know what the effects are to humans. But we’re literally eating and drinking our litter,” said Erdle.
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