Debris Challenge 2022 - Cig Butts

Here at NDS, we try our best to protect what we love by doing beach clean ups, Dives Against Debris, promoting good buoyancy control, and reusing or recycling as much as possible. Our dive team can often be seen picking up trash on dives, and our students often follow suit. 

Unfortunately, along our coastlines lots of debris can be found, and two of the biggest culprits are plastic bottles and cigarette butts. So this August we have decided to see if we can make one debris problem help reduce another. 

Our challenge is this: any single use plastic bottles that are used and disposed of in our dive centre will be used to collect cig butts from the local beach, bay, roads and pavements.

Cig Challenge


  • The Debris issue
  • Why we keep cleaning
  • August Challenge
  • What we hope to achieve
  • Progress so far
  • End of August update
  • How you can help
  • What next 

The Debris Issue

We're sure by now everyone is aware of the debris issue the world faces. An estimated 250 million tons of debris will make its way into our sea by 2025, so we need to act now. Debris is ugly, it ruins the look of our favourite areas and is costly to remove. Trash in our seas choke our marine life, entangle life and is a hazard to humans and animals. As divers we are in a unique position to actually see how much trash ends up on the seabed (or see first hand the damage and destruction it can do). This unique insight we have into the trash issue can give us the motivation and knowledge to do something about it.

Unfortunately it doesn't take long to find trash, and in our local bays we often see two big issues - plastic bottles and cigarette butts.  We won't preach on the damaging affects of smoking (we would be here all day!) but we are more than happy to bring to everyone's attention that a cigarette butt thrown on the floor does not just decompose, as they are made of plastic. As the cigarette butt starts to break apart, the plastic fibres and toxins within them enter our oceans, causing pollution. The filters break down in the water into microplastics. They are damaging to our environment, yet somehow appear to be one of the last "socially acceptable" forms of littering. 

Cigarette litter

Why we keep cleaning

Its a sad fact but after a clean up, we know it wont be too long before more litter is discarded on the ground. So why do we keep cleaning? Simple - in the hope that our efforts make a difference and also raise awareness. Imagine if every time we post about a clean up, or someone sees us on the beach picking up litter, they decide to do the same. Raising awareness and making a small difference on every clean up is enough to keep us going. We also know that every time we remove something from our sea or coastal areas, it's one less bit of trash in our marine environment. If we can raise awareness and make a physical difference at the same time - why wouldn't we keep cleaning?

We know from the "thank you" comments we receive from the public during the clean ups that we aren't the only ones who see the issue of debris, and we are proud to be a small part of the solution. 

Susie picking up cig butts

August Challenge

Our challenge is simple - any plastic bottles that are used in our dive centre during August we will use to collect cigarette butts from the local area. We encourage people to use re-usable bottles for water, but understand that bottled water is used a lot here in Malta. So we will make the plastic bottles in our dive centre provide some good to help us collect the cigarette butts. 

We will also record the amount of cigarettes collected (yes, we are counting each one we pick up) with Clean Swell, a great app for documenting when completing a litter pick. This has the added bonus that not only are we removing trash from our coastal areas, but we are providing data which hopefully can be used to help scientists and advocates around the world tackle ocean trash on a global scale.    

Progress so far

16 days into August and so far we have collected 16 bottles full of cig butts - with a running total of 3875 cigarettes collected from outside our dive centre on St Pauls Bay. We hope to at least double that figure by the end of the month. Unfortunately it's a sad fact that every day we find more, but at least there are 3875 fewer pieces of trash which can't make their way into the sea. 

Ben and Susie collecting litter

End of August update

Every day we headed out to our beach, bay and roads to collect cig butts using plastic bottles. As we got closer to the end of August we realised we were close to 10,000 cig butts collected. So that became our new goal. To collect 10,000 cig butts during August. 

What was great was the more we collected, the less we found the next day. Instead of filling a bottle just on the walk to the sea, we had to hunt to find the cig butts. It really felt like the beach was a must cleaner place each day, so although our collection 

However, what we really loved was the reaction from the public. We often had people coming up to us to thank us for cleaning up the beach, and had a lot of chats with people about why we are cleaning up. Its great that it isn't just us that want to help save our environment. 

We have our collection of cig butts in the bottles on display in our dive centre, and again we have had a great reaction from our divers thanking us. One family all asked for mesh dives for their next dive so they could also collect some trash along the way. 

We logged every cig butt we collected with Clean Swell, a great app from Ocean Conservancy so the data can be saved and used to tackle trash on the surface. With just 270 cigs needed on our last clean up to hit 10,000 cig butts that was our goal.. 

August Cig Butt challenge 10,000 completed

and we did it. 10,000 cig butts collected during August 2022 from around St Pauls Bay. That's 10,000 less pieces of trash that can end up in our sea. Hopefully a small difference made to our dive site. However we really hope we have raised awareness of the issue both locally and to the visitors to Malta. We really believe every little bit helps and we should protect what we love. 

How can you help

Fill a plastic bottle full of cig butts found in your local area, and send us a picture on our Facebook, Instagram or email. It would be great to see how many bottles we can fill around the world. 

What next?

Removing trash from our environment isn't something just for August. Its an ongoing mission. There are so many ways that you can help protect what you love.

The PADI Dive Against Debris Specialty is a great course to learn how to remove trash safely from our oceans, but also how to log the data with PADI AWARE so the data can be used for policy changes. Make every dive a debris dive. 

Having great buoyancy control in the water is a key element of protecting what you love. Our team can happily show you tips and tricks to improve buoyancy and position in the water to make sure your can passively interact with the environment without needing to touch anything (expect the debris as you remove it). 

Or simply always carry a mesh bag with you on a dive and pick up any trash you see. We really believe every little bit helps. 

Cig in plastic bottle

Written by: Susie 


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