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Sustainability Matters – Responsible Smoking on Ibiza's Beaches

This month, IbizaPreservation encourages us to kick the habit of discarding cigarette butts on our beaches.

Image courtesy of Ajuntament de Sant Josep.

Whatever the reason for coming to Ibiza, any trip to the White Isle is always best topped off by a visit to its picturesque beaches. More than 80 of them dot the island’s shores, from long sandy stretches to scenic little coves hemmed in by rugged landscape.

But, as you settle back to soak up the rays and those magnificent coastal views, there’s just one small thing you may notice. Many “small things”, in fact. We’re talking about the cigarette butts you might find strewn thoughtlessly across the sand.

Tiny but deadly

As well as being unsightly and, for non-smokers at least, somewhat distasteful, there are serious environmental points to be made here.

First and foremost, the careless disposal of cigarettes presents a very real fire hazard in hot countries. Vegetation in the summer months is tinder dry and one burning cigarette end can cause extensive and catastrophic fire damage.

Furthermore, cigarette filters are made of plastic fibres called cellulose acetate, and these can take a decade to decompose. Not only that, but they also contain toxic compounds – not just nicotine but things like arsenic, formaldehyde, ammonia, and heavy metals.

This means that, as the butts people stub out in the sand slowly degrade, they are gradually leaching these toxins and microplastics into the water. One cigarette end can pollute up to 500 litres of water; indeed, so toxic are they that researchers at San Diego State University in the US found that a single butt can contaminate one litre of water to the point where it kills half of the fish swimming in it.

In turn, all these nasty substances are then entering the human food chain via the fish and seafood we eat.

Keep Ibiza tidy

Although most of us have been programmed not to drop our rubbish on the street as we’re walking along, for some reason this norm does not seem to apply to cigarettes, which are said to be the most littered item on Earth.

According to the World Health Organisation, around 4.5 trillion cigarette ends are dumped into the environment every year. And even if they’re not dropped on the beach itself, often, they still find their way to the sea via storm drains.

There are no prizes for guessing, then, which item is the most commonly found by the Plastic Free Ibiza alliance during their beach clean-up activities.

Smoke-free beaches

It’s heartening to see that smoke-free beaches have been introduced by the town halls in various places. As of 2023, these are: Caló des Moro in San Antonio, Cala d’Hort, Cala Comte, Salinas, Es Cavallet, Sa Caleta (Es Bol Nou), Cala Sant Vicent, Talamanca, and Santa Eulalia’s main beach, as well as Es Pujols in Formentera. 

However, not smoking in these places is merely an advisory and, without this being enforced with fines, the impact is limited. Perhaps Ibiza could take a leaf out of Barcelona’s book and introduce a local law to officially ban smoking on beaches across the island, with fines for non-compliance.

In the meantime, for the sake of our beaches, our marine environment and our own health, here are some tips to follow to help rid the island of the scourge of cigarette litter:

  • If you smoke, don’t flick your butts away. Place them in a designated receptacle.
  • Purchase a pocket ashtray to transport your extinguished cigarettes until they can be properly disposed of.
  • Some beaches in Ibiza and Formentera offer recycled drinks cans for use as temporary ashtrays; use them!
  • Bring a small container to the beach with you and see how many cigarette butts you can pick out of the sand while you’re there.
  • Spread the word and educate your smoker friends to dispose of their ciggies responsibly.

Finally, now that vaping has become far more common, please note that e-cigarettes need to be disposed of with extra care, as they contain lithium batteries, which are a fire risk. Please don’t put them in grey waste bins or in the yellow plastic recycling container, but either take them to a punto limpio/deixalleria (waste recycling plant) or return them to the shop you brought them from, as these should have the means to dispose of them properly. 

You can find out more about IbizaPreservation and donate towards their work by going to their website: You can also follow them on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

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