A three-member bench of justices Adarsh Kumar Goel, Sonam Phintso Wangdi and Dr Nagin Nanda of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has directed the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to lay down guidelines for disposal of cigarette and bidi butts, in order to safeguard environment, within three months.
The order was passed following a petition filed on September 23, 2015, by the organisation ‘Doctors For You’, with a prayer to regulate the disposal of cigarette and bidi butts, and has made several submissions regarding consumption of tobacco in public places.
A notice was issued on September 28, 2015, to the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC), the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the Union Ministry of Commerce and Industry, CPCB, the Tobacco Board and other respondents.
The response of MoEF&CC was cigarette and bidi butts were not listed as hazardous. The cellulose acetate prepared by converting cellulose into an acetic acid ester is essentially a biodegradable substance. The biodegradability of cellulose acetate, however, was not necessarily satisfactory in practice.
The Ministry of Health in its response submitted that tobacco was detrimental to health. The cigarette and bidi butts were not biodegradable. There was no thorough research on the effect of such butts.
Noting that tobacco is harmful for health, the NGT passed the direction in April 2019 that a study be conducted by the Indian Institute of Toxicology Research (IITR) on the question whether the cigarette and bidi butts fall within the category of toxic waste or not.
The Indian Institute of Toxicology Research (IITR) filed a report on July 9, 2020, stating that the analysis of the cigarette / bidi butts reflect that according to the concentration of various parameters analysed, they are lower than the prescribed limits and would not be toxic to humans and the environment.
However, the expert report also stated that the degradation studies carried out on cigarette butts shown only 37.8% degradation in two years in the soil under ambient conditions; hence it will persist in soil for a longer duration.
The report further pointed out the unavailability of data on the cigarette butts or cellulose acetate (a major component of cigarette butts) mediated human health risk assessment and toxic responses, and response on microflora in the soil.
It suggested for proper degradation studies under natural environmental conditions and laboratory simulating conditions that will be required to conclude safety/toxicity of cigarette butts to further correlate with human health risk assessment.
After perusing the expert report, the NGT bench stated that tobacco is undoubtedly harmful and the authorities are seized of the remedial action; the tribunal is mainly concerned with the manner of disposal of cigarette/bidi butts.
“An expert study has been conducted. We do not find any valid reason to reject the report. Accordingly, we direct that the CPCB may lay down guidelines for disposal of cigarette/bidi butts, in the interest of the environment, within three months,” the NGT order stated.