Dubai: More than 45,000 cigarette butts were picked up by volunteers during a beach clean-up on Saturday morning, which amounts to the equivalent of 2,250 packets of cigarettes, stubbed out in the sand.

Around 65 participants from Volunteers in Dubai joined in a corporate effort by IT firm Wirestorm to clean up a tiny but dangerous pollutant visible on almost every beach.

"The biggest misconception is that they are biodegradable, when in fact what they do is slowly break down into a plastic residue which stays in our ecosystem for decades," said Nancy Abdul Rahman from Wirestorm.

In one hour 45,460 cigarette butts were collected by participants along the Jumeirah Beach Residence beachfront. Lola Lopez from Volunteers in Dubai said the amount of butts collected was "staggering".

‘Positive energy'

"I'm thrilled with the effort made by our volunteers…it's amazing what can be achieved with just positive energy and the spirit to serve a good cause. Focusing solely on collecting cigarette ends was a genius idea, and I'm delighted we could help, there is definitely a lesson for the smoking community to learn here," she told Gulf News.

Cigarette butts are known for their ubiquitous presence on beaches throughout the world. Researchers estimate that every year 7.7 million kilograms of cigarette butts accumulate in lakes, oceans and beaches.

According to the Surf Rider Foundation, a US based non-profit organisation founded in 1984 by surfers dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of the world's oceans, cigarette butts are the number one trash item found on beaches.

In just one day 230,000 cigarette butts were collected from California beaches during the 2000 Coastal Cleanup Day.

"Cigarettes are often littered within ten feet of a permanent ashtray. Now that most buildings do not allow smoking inside, the problem of discarded butts on sidewalks, entryways and in courtyards is increasing," states the website.

Filters and plastic wrap from cigarette packages remain in the environment for long periods of time. Cigarette butts are composed of cellulose acetate, a form of plastic, which can take up to 25 years to decompose. Cigarette butts may seem small, but with several trillion butts littered every year, the toxic chemicals add up.

According to Surf Rider Foundation, plastic pieces have been found in the stomachs of fish, birds, whales, and other marine creatures that mistake them as food, swallowing harmful plastic and toxic chemicals.