Tobacco’s environmental footprint
My name is Nick Voulvoulis. I’m a Professor of Environmental Technology here at Imperial College in the Centre for Environmental Policy. My work is mainly on the interface between human systems and natural systems; so understanding how we interact with the environment and live more sustainably.
The problems we face around the planet has to do with how we consume resources. We create waste and pollute, forcing the planet to it limits. Global cigarette consumption has grown dramatically in the last decades with annual production and consumption have been significantly increasing in the developing world.
This summer here at Imperial, with Maria, we worked on trying to understand the environmental impact of the whole of the supply chain of tobacco from cultivation all the way to smoking and final disposal. We tried to capture the resource needs and also the emissions and environmental impact of cigarette smoking. We did this using life cycle analysis and material flow analysis, two popular tools in capturing the environmental footprint in different products.
Using figures based on the year 2014, a total of 32.4 million tonnes of green tobacco leaf were cultivated on 4 million hectares of land, across 125 countries, producing 6.48 million tonnes of dry tobacco, used to manufacture in nearly 500 factories worldwide, making 6 trillion cigarettes sticks that were used in 2014. There are significant resource needs and emissions and waste produced at every stage of the supply chain. The global contribution of the tobacco industry to climate change is around 84 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent. When you add it all up, it doesn’t sound fair to expend valuable resources on things that create hospital admissions and cancer in the end.
Smoking does not just affect our health but limits people’s ability to prosper. Sooner or later, the industry will have to face the question of what it has done for us.
Unless we can prove that it is not just for the pockets of multinational companies it will be very difficult to make a case for this to keep going on.