Littering: Do the right thing to reduce fires and pollution

Last updated June 9, 2022
Reading time: 2 min

Littering is a major source of pollution. Not only are surgical masks, food wrappers and cigarette butts harmful to the environment, they also pose a huge risk to everyone’s safety?

Environmental impacts

When we forget to put our trash in a trash can or recyclables in a recycling bin, it’s known as “trashnesia.” Littering impacts our environment and our living space: lt threatens our quality of life and that of future generations. 

Food packaging and the environment

Also, did you know that most of the trash on the ground consists of food wrappers from food and drink that people consume on the go? When plastic cups, bottles, sandwich bags and meal boxes aren’t recycled, they can take up to 500 years to decompose. 

Opt for products with reusable containers and sort your waste into your recycling or compost bins. Only if your trash can’t be composted or recycled should you throw it in the trash can.   

Disposable masks in the garbage, please!

In 2020, a new type of litter has emerged: Surgical masks. The proper way to dispose of them is in a public trash can or at home. Some institutions have a recycling bin specifically for masks. To generate less trash, a reusable mask is recommended when it’s possible to wear one.

Danger posed by cigarette butts

Are you a “butthead”? Buttheads toss their cigarette butts anywhere. Not only do cigarette butts cause pollution, this widespread habit can even cause fires. Yet, solutions do exist.

Cigarette butt: Small trash item, big polluter

On average, cigarette butts make up 30 per cent of the litter found on streets and sidewalks in big cities like Montréal. One cigarette butt, as small as it may seem, is partially made of plastic and contains up to 7,000 chemicals. Once it’s on the ground, it takes about 10 years to decompose. If the wind and rain blow it into the sewer system or a body of water, it can pollute up to 500 litres of water.

Beware of the risk of fire

Un mégot de cigarette jeté au sol

While some smokers throw their butts on the sidewalk, others put out their butts in flower pots or toss them into a flower bed. Even if you think you put your butt out, it could still cause a fire.

Why a risk of fire?Because black earth and mulch are composed of combustible peat, moss and wood chips that also contain chemical fertilizer. When these materials come into contact with a heat source, they can catch fire. This situation is even more dangerous, as four to five hours can pass between the time when a cigarette butt is crushed in soil and the time that the first flames appear.


There are solutions that help prevent problems:

  • In your yard or on your balcony, use a deep jelly jar filled with damp sand and be sure to place it on a non-combustible surface. 


  • When you’re on the move, use a portable ashtray, also called a pocket ashtray. Pocket ashtrays are small and odourless, and several models are available on the market.