Cigarette Butts Are the #1 Most Littered Item In the World

Cigarette butts are the number one item found at beach cleanups, and the most littered item around the world. Every year 4.5 trillion butts—1.7 million pounds—are littered around the world. In the San Francisco Bay Area alone, smokers litter 3 billion butts a year. Cigarette butts are plastic, toxic, and useless.


Cigarette filters are made of the same plastic used in sunglasses—cellulose acetate. Just like other plastics, they never biodegrade, but break up into microplastics that pollute our water and soil. And, just like other plastics, they can be recycled. Check out this video to learn how.


Smoked cigarette butts trap nicotine, arsenic, formaldehyde, and heavy metals like lead and cadmium that leach into the water and soil, threatening water quality, marine and terrestrial life, and seafood safety. Environmental Protection Agency test protocols proved that cigarette filters are toxic to aquatic life. Just one cigarette butt in one liter of water kills half the fish.


The Surgeon General proved that cigarette filters do not make a safer cigarette—though they trap toxic chemicals, they do not reduce the chance of death or disease from smoking. Filters are a tobacco industry marketing gimmick with dangerous environmental consequences.

What We Do

Surfrider’s Hold onto Your Butt works to eliminate cigarette butt litter by:

  • Partnering with local businesses and government to install buttcans throughout San Francisco
  • Educating smokers that cigarette butts are plastic, toxic, and do not make a healthier cigarette
  • Cleaning cigarette butts off beaches and streets and recycling butts through TerraCycle
  • Advocating for the enforcement and creation of anti-cigarette filter and anti-cigarette litter policies

Read our report, Preventing Cigarette Litter in San Francisco to learn more about the problem and our recommendations for fixing it. And follow us on instagram and our blog.

What You Can Do

Join us in the fight against cigarette litter! In San Francisco, there are many ways to help.

  • Know a location that needs a buttcan? Tell us here!
  • Come to a beach cleanup or cigarette butt cleanup (calendar)
  • Bring cigarette butts to our cleanups and we’ll recycle them for you
  • Report cigarette litter hotspots to SF311 by logging a Street Cleaning Request on their website or app
  • If you smoke, please use a pocket ashtray! You can buy them at Daiso or online


Contact our HOTYB lead, Shelly Ericksen at with any questions.