New laws that force tobacco companies to pay the cost for cleaning up millions of cigarettes will come into effect across Spain on Friday.

The new rules were approved last year as part of a law banning single-use plastics such as cutlery and straws, and was created in response to a European Union directive. 

The law also states that tobacco companies could also be required to pay for the installation of public receptacles for cigarette butts. 

Packaging should also urge smokers to dispose of butts responsibly.

The Spanish government has yet to calculate how much tobacco companies will have to pay to compensate for the clean-up costs borne by local authorities, but one study suggested the amount could run into hundreds of millions of euros annually.

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Discarded cigarette butts are the single biggest litter item globally.

According to research by Rezero, a private foundation, the annual cost of cleaning up cigarette waste in the region of Catalunya runs from €12 to €21 per inhabitant, with the higher rate for those in seaside areas where beaches are combed for butts.

“In Catalunya, cigarette butts generate more than 2700 tonnes of waste per year, and it is estimated that 70 per cent of cigarettes smoked globally end up on land or in natural spaces,” says the 2020 report, conducted with the support of Catalunya’s regional government.

Discarded cigarette butts are the single biggest litter item globally, with a World Health Organisation report calculating that 4.5 trillion are tossed into the environment each year, most of them ending up in waterways and the sea.

The vast majority of tobacco products have cigarette filters that contain cellulose acetate, a plastic that does not biodegrade but slowly breaks into microplastic particles.

Aquatic birds and fish have been found containing large amounts of filter plastic residues. 

The harmful chemicals concentrated in cigarette butts are also damaging to the environment.

Ireland, too, has introduced legislation to make tobacco companies liable for part of the cost of cleaning up cigarette waste, with the size of the bill to be set when figures become available.

Last year, Ireland’s local authorities spent €85 million on street cleaning, with cigarette butts accounting for half of all litter, according to the country’s National Litter Pollution Monitoring System.

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