Almost 2 miles of Elmwood Avenue were transformed for the day into an urban “Eco corridor” on August 10.

The event: The first annual Flutterby Festival.

The idea: To showcase environmentally friendly businesses and organizations.

Our team from Tobacco-Free Roswell Park was proud to be among the groups fluttering by and through. We shared vital information about one of our mission’s:  Collecting discarded cigarette butts to keep the litter from polluting Buffalo and Western New York. Removing the butts, which contain toxic chemicals that can accumulate in soil and water, is serious.

To prepare for our Flutterby exhibit/public art, a group of volunteers from Roswell Park and the Great Lakes Alliance picked up thousands of cigarette butts from Elmwood Avenue the week before the Festival. We placed our collection data in small plastic bags and hung them on a string over the Festival walkway to help educate the community about the harmful effects of butt litter.

Passersby were intrigued by the display and engaged curiously with the “butt bags” and messaging. Titles like “Bird Kill,” “Toxic Waste,” and “Water Contaminator” got them thinking about what cigarette butts so freely tossed on the ground can actually do to harm wildlife, our water supply, as well as  Mother Earth and her infinite beauty.

“They are a scourge on the environment,” said director  Anthony Billoni, who took shelter under the String of Cigarette Butt display throughout the event.


Anthony Billoni gets up close and personal with cigarette butt litter collected from Elmwood Avenue to help educate the community on the environmental issues they present.

He says the butts take a long time to degrade, and toxins within them end up moving through the food chain when a small animal or insect eats the microfibers.

It came as a surprise to many visitors who fluttered by that cigarettes are the most littered item on earth. Worldwide, about 4.5 trillion cigarettes are littered each year.

How much litter is from cigarettes?

Cigarettes make up more than one-third—nearly 38 percent—of all collected litter. Disposing of cigarettes on the ground or out of a car is so common that 75 percent of smokers report doing it.

Plus, all these cigarette butts cost big bucks to clean up. Cities spend between $3 million and $16 million on cigarette litter.

Cigarette Butt Litter: An Expensive Hazard

Is cigarette waste toxic?

Littered cigarette butts leach toxic chemicals—such as arsenic (used to kill rats) and lead, to name a few—into the environment and can contaminate water. The toxic exposure can poison fish, as well as animals who eat cigarette butts.

What is in a typical cigarette filter?

It may look like cotton, but 98 percent of cigarette filters are made of plastic fibers (cellulose acetate) that are tightly packed together, which leads to an estimated 1.69 billion pounds of cigarette butts winding up as toxic trash each year.

Are cigarettes biodegradable?

No—the plastic fibers in cigarettes are non-biodegradable, meaning they won’t organically break down from living organisms.

How long does it take for cigarettes to decompose?

Although cigarettes don’t break down naturally, they can gradually decompose depending on environmental conditions like the rain and sun. Estimates on the time it takes vary, but a recent study found that a cigarette butt was only about 38 percent decomposed after two years. 

We have to do come up with new solutions for the world’s most littered trash. There are no ifs, ands or butts about it. To  get involved with the team fro Tobacco-Free Roswell Park, call Jenna Brinkworth at 716.845.1615.