29th April 2022

The cigarette and how to fight against this number one polluter

Cigarette butts are a toxic plastic pollutant. In fact, cigarette butts are the most common type of litter collected on beaches. We spoke to Stéphane Hérard, Business Unit Manager at Shime, a company which assists organisations, municipalities and businesses such as Spuerkeess with the implementation of "zero-cigarette butt" projects.

1. Mr Hérard, what are the negative impacts on nature and animals?

8 million: that’s how many cigarette butts are thrown onto the ground every minute worldwide!

A cigarette butt takes 15 years to degrade, and a single butt pollutes 500 litres of water.

So, it is easy to understand why cigarette butts are a real environmental scourge. Moreover, they are one of the main sources of plastic pollution in the oceans, as cigarette butts discarded on the ground end up in our waterways and make their way into seas all over the world.

Cigarette butts also break down into microplastics, which are swallowed by animals and especially fish, before finding their way onto our plates and being consumed by us.

Sadly, there are many other risks to the environment and every summer the news reminds us that cigarette butts are often the cause of fires leading to the destruction of thousands of hectares of forests.

2. What is the current situation in Luxembourg? How many smokers are contributing to pollution in our country?

In 2019, 27% of the population in Luxembourg smoked and of these, more than half smoked at least half a pack cigarette per day. The pandemic has certainly made the situation even worse.

Based on this study, Shime estimates that 700 million cigarettes are smoked in Luxembourg each year, and that two thirds of them end up in the environment. For information and to avoid any misunderstanding, I am talking about cigarettes smoked rather than cigarettes sold, since the number sold in Luxembourg is more than seven billion.

3. How many Luxembourg companies are involved in this fight against cigarette butt pollution?

Lots. And despite the health context of the last two years, we are very pleasantly surprised by the enthusiasm of companies and local authorities in Luxembourg for our eco-friendly solution, and by the success we have had.

There are currently more than 30 companies in Luxembourg, of every size and in every sector (finance, insurance, IT, manufacturing, transport, retail, etc.) and ten towns and cities involved, representing more than 20% of the local population.

4. When do you expect to reach your "zero cigarette butts" target?

"Zero cigarette butts" is obviously an ambitious, landmark target, but it is underpinned by our desire to bring about real and lasting changes in smoker behaviour and, more broadly, to unite a community of eco-citizens.

The size of the country, the European directive on single-use plastics, the commitment of the public authorities, in particular through the "Null Offall Lëtzebuerg" (zero waste Luxembourg) waste prevention strategy, and above all, the genuine eco-friendly culture among our citizens, strengthen our conviction that wanting to make Luxembourg the first "zero cigarette butts" country is not just utopian thinking.

For more than a year now, we have received support from the Ministry of the Economy as part of the "Neistart Lëtzebuerg" (new start Luxembourg) economic recovery programme, to design, develop and have manufactured locally "voluntary cigarette butts disposal bins" enabling environmentally conscious citizens and small traders to collect their cigarette butts and deposit them in specific receptacles.

It is worth noting that the municipality of Mamer adopted this approach, which is unique in Europe, as soon as the first prototype was completed! The very first disposal bin will be installed in the next few weeks, and we intend to export it to several European countries, as our initiative is both innovative and very impactful.

5. As for cigarette butts, what useful tips do you have for our readers?

Our useful tips: 

1. Stop smoking or cut down; we are also working with the Cancer Foundation in this regard, by placing their contact details on our various communication materials.

2. Learn more about the environmental pollution caused by cigarette butts and share this information with your friends and family.

3. Take part in the numerous voluntary collections organised by associations and communities, with which Shime is often associated. This is the best way to grasp the extent of the problem and to understand the need to change one’s behaviour, whilst doing something useful for the planet.

4. And set a good example:

  • by carrying a pocket ashtray at all times, to avoid discarding any cigarette butts while you are out and about in the city or in your vehicle;

  • by using the ashtrays provided by your company when you are at work and if none have yet been provided, contact us;

  • by storing your cigarette butts at home in a suitable jar or container, as you will soon be able to deposit them in the specially provided, geo-located bins.

About the blog:


There is an urgent need for rapid transition to global sustainability. Business and industry have enormous social and environmental impacts. "Why does it matter?" is a bi-monthly blog that aims to elucidate this important topic through the eyes of our experts. 

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