Spring cleaning — it’s that time again. But this year, instead of just rearranging the same old boxes or rooting through that cluttered garage, international recycling leader TerraCycle and Keep America Beautiful, the nation’s largest community improvement organization, are recruiting volunteers to give spring cleaning a new meaning by collecting and recycling the world’s most littered item — cigarette butts.
Every year, the Great American Cleanup beautifies communities across the country and unites volunteers with grassroot events. These include community litter cleanups designed to aesthetically improve local parks and streetscapes, the promotion of community greening and beautification efforts ranging from planting new trees to developing entire community gardens, and the facilitation of community education through workshops and on-the-ground service projects.
Starting today, March 20, and in celebration of the Great American Cleanup’s 25th anniversary, Keep America Beautiful and TerraCycle are bringing recycling front-and-center this year by distributing 4,000 new cigarette cleanup kits to national affiliates. While supplies last, 500 individuals can also request their own free kit to make a difference in their local community. Each cigarette cleanup kit includes a litter picker, scale, reflective vest, liners, and work gloves to make active cleanups a breeze.
Out of the 4.5 trillion cigarettes discarded worldwide every year, 9.7 billion of them are littered along roadways and waterways in the United States — making them the world’s most littered item. Most people do not realize that cigarette filters are made of a plastic called cellulose acetate that takes years to decompose and because of this, many litter spent cigarettes without a second thought. In reality, cigarette butts are a pervasive form of plastic pollution that can leach toxic chemicals like arsenic and lead into the environment — polluting land and marine habitats while harming unsuspecting wildlife who mistake the waste for food.
In response, Keep America Beautiful and TerraCycle ask concerned individuals to “think global and act local” to stomp-out cigarette litter in their local communities for good. Here’s how to get involved:
- Register to volunteer for an already established local cleanup
- Individuals who do not live near a cleanup event can request a cigarette cleanup kit and sign-up for TerraCycle’s Cigarette Waste Free Recycling Program to independently package and ship the collected cigarette butts (free of charge) for recycling.
- Individuals can also sign up to conduct a Great American Cleanup event by themselves or with a small group on their own schedule.
TerraCycle’s Cigarette Waste Free Recycling Program invites community organizations, nonprofits and local municipalities to place cigarette butt collection receptacles in highly-trafficked areas to collect cigarette waste while beautifying their neighborhoods in the process. Keep America Beautiful offers grants to local KAB chapters, non-affiliate NGOs, municipalities, etc. for the purchasing of these receptacles and gives them the capability to conduct cigarette litter assessments and launch consumer messaging campaigns. As an added bonus, $1.00 is donated towards Keep America Beautiful’s Cigarette Litter Prevention Program for every pound of cigarette waste collected.
When processed, the paper and tobacco collected are separated from the filter and composted. The filter is recycled into plastic pellets, which manufacturers can use to make several products, such as shipping pallets, ashtrays, and park benches. TerraCycle has collected hundreds of millions of cigarette butts globally. Additionally, its various recycling programs have engaged over hundreds of millions of people across 21 countries to collect and recycle billions of pieces of waste that were otherwise non-recyclable.