BLOG D: Tobacco by the Tonne

“Cigarette butts are the most commonly discarded pieces of waste worldwide. It is estimated that 148705 tonnes of butts and packs wind up as toxic trash in Indonesia annually” (The Tobacco Atlas 2019) due to the country selling over 315 billion cigarettes (Tjandra 2018) and disposing of the same amount. This disruptive culture of tobacco disposal has been further explored through undertaking visual ethnography in Ambon.

Within Ambon’s city centre, it was discovered that approximately one quarter of waste came from cigarette butts and packaging (refer to figures one). The littering of cigarettes is seen most predominantly in the busiest parts of the city, around small shops and market stalls where people were selling the cigarettes (refer to figure two). Citizens disposed of their cigarettes by dropping them onto the ground or chucking them into waterways (refer to figure three and four). When moving east of the city centre towards the DRPD Provinsi Maluku, known for being a wealthier part of town, there was less cigarette disposal on the streets although some cigarette packets and butts could still be found outside of the Provinsi and along the adjacent streets.


Figure One: Close up evidence of rubbish in Ambon’s waterways, where cigarette butts and packets amount for approximately 25%.


Figure Two: Mapping the prevalence of cigarette disposal in Ambon.


Figure Three: Evidence of large amounts of cigarette butts disposed in Ambon street drains.


Figure Four: Evidence of large amounts of waste in Ambon’s waterways (Elliott 2019).

From these observations, speculations were made that cigarette disposal is much more prominent in the city centre as it is bustling with people in comparison to the quieter wealthier east. In addition, the social culture of smoking on the streets in large groups was only seen in the city centre and hence created more physical waste from tobacco products. However, bins for general waste and cigarettes are inconveniently placed and extremely hard to find around the city streets, the only spotting being in the centre of Merdeka Field (refer to figure five). This may conclude why smokers choose to drop their discarded cigarettes on the streets instead of putting them in provided bins.


Figure Five: Sighting of bins to dispose waste in Merdeka Field.

There are many solutions Indonesia could adopt to try and change smoker’s behaviour towards cigarette butt deposition. One way entails enforcing anti-littering laws as they have proved to be successful in countries such as the U.S. (Barnes 2011). In addition, imposing cigarette butt abatement fees on each pack of cigarettes would help to reduce the number of people buying cigarettes – as evidence has shown that younger people and people with low incomes are more responsive to tobacco price increases (Adioetomo et al. 2008) – and hence reduce the amount of waste. But simply, adding more bins around the city – specifically for cigarettes – would significantly benefit the detrimental tobacco dumping culture as “cigarette butts are [a] toxic, hazardous waste” (Barnes 2011) that contribute to the pollution of the beautiful ocean, rivers, drains and streets of Indonesia which in turn affect individuals health and the environment.


Adioetomo, S.M., Ahsan, A., Barber, S., Setyonaluri, D. 2008, Tobacco economics in Indonesia, International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, Paris.

Barnes, R.L. 2011, ‘Regulating The Disposal of Cigarette Butts as Toxic Hazardous Waste’, Centre for Tobacco Control Research and Education, vol. 1, no. 20, pp. i45-i48.

Elliott, J. 2019, Gotta Love Your Phone Disconnecting From The Drone Mid Flight and Having to Fly Blind 500m to the Top of your Hotel, Instagram, viewed 16 January 2019, <;.

Tjandra, N. 2018, ‘Disneyland for Big Tobacco’: how Indonesia’s lax smoking laws are helping next generation to get hooked, News, The Conversation, Victoria, viewed 9 January 2019, <;.

The Tobacco Atlas 2019, Indonesia, American Cancer Society Inc. and Vital Strategies, viewed 15 January, <;.

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