Wednesday, 12 April 2023, 14:41
Despite fewer people smoking and increased awareness on the causes of fire, discarded cigarette butts continue to be one of the biggest threats to the Spanish countryside.
A lit cigarette butt caused a blaze that affected 410 hectares of the Cabo de Creus natural park in Girona, showing how drastic the consequences can be.
According to Spain's environment ministry, 80 per cent of wildfires are intentional or caused by negligence, and three per cent are caused by cigarette butts discarded from some of the millions of vehicles on the roads during this time of year.
Current Spanish legislation states that every time we leave, spill or drop things in a public area, we are commiting a minor offence that can be sanctioned with a fine between 198 and 3,800 euros.
Throwing anything out of a moving car, including cigarette butts, is punishable by a fine of 200 euros and four points off the driver's licence. If the condition of the road is affected, the fine can be between 3,800 and almost 9,800 euros, and if it triggers a forest fire, those responsible could face a prison sentence of between three and six years.
The most serious incident of this type was the 1999 MontBlanc tunnel fire. A van caught fire due to a cigarette butt from another car entering its air vent and 39 people died. The tunnel was closed for three years, costing $150 million to repair, and a further $800 million in economic loss.
The Spanish traffic authority (DGT) urges everyone to avoid throwing litter onto the roads this summer. It is not just referring to cigarette butts, but other types of waste such as pieces of glass, which can concentrate light and start a fire.
According to a US study in 2009 on roadside rubbish, over 90% of the waste was 10 centimetres or smaller. This is because it was mostly cigarette butts (38%), paper (22%) and plastic (19%).
The waste came primarily from road users - drivers (53%) and pedestrians (23%). However, other factors exist, such as lost cargo from lorries, cars and vans, as well as parts of the vehicles themselves and oil leaks.
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