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Comparison of cellulose vs. plastic cigarette ¿lter decomposition under distinct disposal environments

Joly F.X., Coulis M.. 2018. Waste Management, 72 : p. 349-353.

It is estimated that 4.5 trillion cigarette butts are discarded annually, making them numerically the most common type of litter on Earth. To accelerate their disappearance after disposal, a new type of cigarette filters made of cellulose, a readily biodegradable compound, has been introduced in the market. Yet, the advantage of these cellulose filters over the conventional plastic ones (cellulose acetate) for decomposition, remains unknown. Here, we compared the decomposition of cellulose and plastic cigarettes filters, either intact or smoked, on the soil surface or within a composting bin over a six-month field decomposition experiment. Within the compost, cellulose filters decomposed faster than plastic filters, but this advantage was strongly reduced when filters had been used for smoking. This indicates that the accumulation of tars and other chemicals during filter use can strongly affect its subsequent decomposition. Strikingly, on the soil surface, we observed no difference in mass loss between cellulose and plastic filters throughout the incubation. Using a first order kinetic model for mass loss of for used filters over the short period of our experiment, we estimated that conventional plastic filters take 7.5¿14¿years to disappear, in the compost and on the soil surface, respectively. In contrast, we estimated that cellulose filters take 2.3¿13¿years to disappear, in the compost and on the soil surface, respectively. Our data clearly showed that disposal environments and the use of cellulose filters must be considered when assessing their advantage over plastic filters. In light of our results, we advocate that the shift to cellulose filters should not exempt users from disposing their waste in appropriate collection systems.

Thématique : Pollution

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