On Aug. 15, Michigan State University will enact a campuswide ban on the use of tobacco products, as part of an ongoing effort to ensure the community can enjoy the healthiest campus possible.

Most of us know that smoking is the primary cause of preventable death in the United States, but did you know that it is also the leading contributor to the world's litter burden? According to a study in the Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 1.69 billion pounds of cigarette filters end up in the environment as trash yearly. This is the equivalent, in weight, to adding 3,000 Spartan Statues worth of trash to our environment daily!

Cigarettes are not only harmful when smoked, they are dangerous long after. Cellulose acetate, the material used to make cigarette filters, is photo-degradable, but not bio-degradable. Essentially, this means that under ideal environmental conditions, ultraviolet rays from the sun can eventually break the filter into smaller pieces, but the source material never fully disappears. Instead, it only becomes diluted, releasing toxic chemicals into waterways and soil. Even when disposed of properly, the non-biodegradability of filters increases landfill demands, adds cost to waste-disposal programs and creates environmental blight in public spaces.

"Anything we do on the land surface can eventually end up in waterways, and cigarettes are a huge piece of that," says Ruth Kline-Robach, a stormwater expert in MSU's Department of Community Sustainability. "A big part of our campus Stormwater Management Program involves helping faculty, students, and visitors on campus understand the connection between the things they do, and the quality of water in the Red Cedar River."

A photo of ducks floating down MSU's Red Cedar River.
Photo courtesy of Communications and Brand Strategy