Small actions, big crimes

The national awareness campaign against the abandonment of cigarette butts in the environment

The campaign, promoted by Marevivo in collaboration with British American Tobacco Italia and sponsored by the Ministry of the Environment and the Municipality of Sorrento, started from Sorrento in 2020 with a series of initiatives to high visual impact that they aim to raise awareness about the danger of littering, that is the deliberate or involuntary abandonment of small waste in public or open spaces such as streets, squares, parks, beaches.

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Monitored areas of the city


Butts in the environment


other small waste

The problem

Cigarette butts are considered the most common form of personal waste in the world. According to a report by Ocean Conservancy (2016), in 2015 in a single day 5 million butts were collected on the beaches of over 100 countries.

In the Mediterranean cigarette butts represent 40% of the waste (9.5% are plastic bottles, 8.5% plastic bags, 7.6% aluminum cans). The filters are not biodegradable, they become microplastic and remain in the sea forever.

Littering is one of the causes of pollution of our seas and beaches. Butts are one of the most common waste on the beaches, releasing harmful substances into the sea creating major damage to the marine ecosystem.

6 trillion

of cigarette are smoked every year in the world

4,5 trillion

butts are thrown in the environment every year

5 million

butts are abandoned on the beaches every day

About the project

The initiative, conceived and realized by the creative agency Question Mark Communication, includes, in addition to the advertising campaign, the installation of a real «crime scene» in which, next to the victims – fishes, turtles and starfishes – was placed the reproduction of a giant butt, symbolic murder weapon.

A “scene” that highlights the extent of a common problem, such as pollution, caused by small gestures of each, as that of throwing a butt on the ground. The installation will remind passers-by of the importance of not committing a “crime”. Sorrento was therefore chosen as the ideal “pilot” municipality for the first stage of the project and for the creation of a format that in the near future will be extended to other Italian cities.

Main objectives of the campaign


Raising awareness and educating citizens on the issue of environmental respect and the consequences of negative behaviours


Fight the abandonment of butts through the correct placement in the city of bins and the distribution of ashtrays pocket to the citizens


Raising awareness among local institutions

Sorrento as pilot city in 2020

The initiative has included the monitoring of 16 sites, chosen between the more frequented zones of the city of Sorrento, where there have been collected, analyzed and quantified the various types of waste in two distinct moments pre and post campaign, with the aim of verifying the actual results of the initiative. The investigation was conducted using drones to capture images of every monitored areas.

Ashtray and graffiti

4,000 pocket ashtrays were delivered by the volunteers of Marevivo Sorrento to the people in the areas of Marina Grande, Marina Piccola, Corso Italia, Piazza Tasso and Piazza Lauro, from July 23 to August 9, so as to invite everyone to throw their butts in the ashtray. BAT Italia, in fact, has also contributed, with the support of the service company Penisolaverde, to the installation of 50 new municipal baskets.
Graffiti aimed at strengthening the message of the campaign, were also made near the drains of Corso Italia and Piazza Lauro to invite the local population and tourists not to throw butts and other waste in the streets.
The digital world is also involved in the initiative. The campaign materials have a QR Code that allows to interact with the chatbot “MARINA”. This artificial intelligence (AI), active from today, releases information and insights regarding sector research, related initiatives and monitoring operations, commissioned by BAT Italia to Altran and Ellipsis.

Buy the pocket ashtray in our Blue Shop


The images captured by the drones in the sites involved, were then processed thanks to the technology of machine learning of Ellipsis Earth – a company specialized in the detection, categorization and traceability of plastic waste in the environment – which has identified 47 categories of waste, including cigarette butts and packets, with over 90% accuracy and certainty.


The society Altran, part of the Capgemini Group and world leader in engineering and R&D services for companies, in collaboration with Penisolaverde of the Municipality of Sorrento, has taken care to monitor the amount of butts properly conferred by smokers, collecting quantitative and qualitative data before and after the marketing year


During the days before and after the campaign, a qualitative survey report was carried out to evaluate what fight be the best strategies to counter the phenomenon of littering, or abandonment, deliberate or involuntary, of small waste in public or open spaces such as streets, squares, parks, beaches . Live Sea volunteers administered a questionnaire – carried out by AICA (International Ass. for Environmental Communication) and the University Federico II Napoli with the contribution of BAT – with the aim of measuring the qualitative impact of the campaign on the perception of the interviewee.

The "crime scene"

First step July 23rd 2020






Download the infographic with the data of the first stage of the Campaign.

AICA survey
Big crimes, small and big polluters

Data monitoring and analysis

Altran, part of the Capgemini Group and world leader in engineering and R&D services for companies, in collaboration with Penisolaverde, will monitor the amount of hubs present in the baskets of the central areas of Sorrento, thus highlighting the changes in population behaviour as a result of the campaign and thus the effectiveness of awareness-raising operations.

Ellipsis, an innovative London-based company, will analyze aerial shooting with pre and post campaign drones. Through its AI, it will identify areas where waste is present, recognise the type and quantity of waste, and generate related heat maps with sophisticated technologies. These maps, available on an open-source platform, will allow you to structure and activate future targeted and effective intervention plans.

Litterer identikit

The environmental pollution caused by littering was the subject of a survey carried out by AICA in collaboration with the University of Turin and under the patronage of the Ministry of the Environment. The study showed that out of 100 smokers observed more than 70 have abandoned their hubs in the environment, without therefore making use of ashtrays or bins. AICA has also traced a sketch of the subject most likely to have an incorrect behavior: he is male, over 50 or aged between 20 and 24 years and if he is in group (more than 4 people) tends to assume a lax behavior and little respectful of the environment.

In detail, it is noted that in 69.4% of cases women adopt correct behaviour compared to 60% of men

The areas where there is a tendency to “pollute” more are the semi-peripheral areas of the cities, the areas near schools and universities, followed immediately by the tourist resorts

These are in fact the places where the lowest percentages of correct behaviour are recorded, and therefore where it is easier to find waste on the ground, respectively in 58.5%, 49.1% and 60.8% of cases.

A great threat to the environment

There are over 5,000 elements in cigarettes. Of these, at least 150 (44 of which were found in large quantities) are considered to be highly toxic, mainly because of their carcinogenic and mutagenic potential. When burned, many of the chemicals in cigarettes produce new elements, and those with the highest toxic potential are concentrated primarily in the tobacco remnants and filter. These compounds can be released and contaminate soil, rivers and the sea.
After the rapid deterioration of the external paper, the degradation proceeds very slowly in all environmental conditions: after two years at sea a hub has lost less than 38% by weight and the longer it remains in the environment, the greater the pollution caused. A single hub can contaminate up to 1000 liters of water and the main compounds released include nicotine and its derivatives, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and metals.

Butts eaten by fishes

Chemicals in cigarettes can also be harmful to marine organisms. Studies currently underway at the Polytechnic University of Marche have shown that substances released after 24 hours from 10 butts in a liter of water inhibit 50% growth of microalgae. Even less (from 0.3 to 2.5 butts per litre) is needed to cause obvious malformations in the embryonic development of the oyster. The extracts obtained from the cigarette butts cause cytotoxicity effects in mussel tissues after 72 hours.
Also frequent is the ingestion of butts by fishes, birds, turtles, whales and other marine creatures (Sapienza - University of Rome)
According to research, filter substances were found in 30% of the turtles and 70% of the birds tested. Through fish, these substances can reach even humans.

Correct disposal of cigarette butts

Cigarette butts should be thrown into the undifferentiated, which is usually indicated by the gray bin. Deciding to dispose of them differently, maybe throwing them in the toilet or on the street, causes serious damage to the environment.

Recycle of butts: is it possible?

In recent years more and more ideas and proposals have emerged to recycle cigarette butts, for example in the creation of plastic pellets or building materials.


The project is in collaboration with BAT and with the patronage of the Ministry of Environment

The commitment of Marevivo in the years

Marevivo launched in 2009 the campaign "Ma il mare non vale una cicca?" against the abandonment of the butts on the beach. The campaign, which continued for about ten years, was born to fight the bad habit of throwing cigarette butts wherever you are and promoting, therefore, correct and eco-sustainable behavior. It involved hundreds of beaches across the peninsula involving exceptional testimonials and thousands of volunteers for the distribution of portable ashtrays accompanied by an awareness folder.

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