Keep the habit, save the planet

Updated: Mar 2

An alternative to synthetic cigarettes that induces less harm to the environment.

By Salena Fourie

Where do the cigarette butts disappear to after a smoke break?

The truth is, they don’t. According to Truth Initiative, research done in 2017 proved that cigarette butts made up more than a third of global litter. Apart from the human health risks associated with cigarettes, they also have a noteworthy impact on the environment.

Synthetic cigarettes are not biodegradable. They contain toxic chemicals such as arsenic and lead. These chemicals can contaminate water resulting in the poisoning of many aquatic animals. Littered cigarette butts can be eaten by many animals, such as birds with frail digestive systems. It’s so toxic that it holds the potential to kill these animals. . Another concerning factor for the environment is that cigarette filters are not made from cotton. The filters are 98% cellulose acetate (plastic fibres) -and we all know what plastic does to the environment.

So how do you save the planet if you can't defeat your habit?

The answer is to replace your synthetic cigarettes with self-rolled cigarettes, also known as “rollies”. Rollies consist of rolling paper, tobacco and a filter (optional).  Unlike cigarettes, they do not contain plastic or any toxic chemicals. The rolling paper is made from natural plant cellulose, water and a bit of glycerine. This makes them completely biodegradable. No synthetic glue or gum is required to seal this hand-rolled cigarette; simply wetting the edge of the transparent paper is enough.

The tobacco used in self-rolled cigarettes is also not harmful to the environment and can even be used as a fertilizer for certain plants. In Tanauan, a city located in the Philippines, farmers grew vegetables using tobacco rejects as organic fertilizers. This was documented by Philstar Global, an agricultural company.  

What about the filter?

Not all filters that are used for rolling your self-rolled cigarette are entirely eco-friendly, so it’s important to make sure you use the ones that are.  Various brands such as Swan, Rizla, OCB and Karma sell filter tips which are 100% biodegradable. The Karma brand has even introduced filter tips that grow into grass as they have grass seeds embedded into the tip.

More people are starting to give up their synthetic cigarettes for a natural replacement. If rollies are not to your taste, the new biodegradable cigarettes in town may be of interest to you (

Wouldn't you feel relieved if you knew that your remaining smoke won't be a problem to get rid of? Ditch those synthetic cigarettes for something the environment won’t frown upon. With that being said, it is still advised to quit smoking and if you do not, at least dispose of your butts responsibly.


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Rhodes University (UCKAR), Makhanda (Grahastown), Eastern Cape

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