While banning or reducing the use of plastic bags and straws has become a headline cause for brands, governments and environmental activists in recent years, cigarette butts are actually the most littered waste stream on the planet Researchers, scientists and policymakers from around the world are coming up with innovative actions to tackle the problem of cigarette butt waste.
In the 1950s and ‘60s, filters were added to cigarettes in an attempt to make smoking healthier. Unfortunately, the majority of these filters are made from a wood-based plastic called cellulose acetate, a kind of non-biodegradable plastic that takes anywhere from 10 to 15 years to fully decompose. Further to this, cellulose acetate filters are today understood to leak arsenic, chromium, nickel, and cadmium into our soil and water, killing wildlife and damaging ecosystems.
To help solve the problem of cigarette butt waste, US-based company Greenbutts has created biodegradable filters. Manufactured from a patented blend of natural materials, including flex, hemp, cotton and a natural starch-based binder, Greenbutts filters are made from natural food-grade fibers, contain no plastics or petroleum products, rapidly degrade and will dissipate in water within a few minutes. According to the brand, Greenbutts is “currently seeking a partner in the filter/tobacco industry which has the capacity to manufacture and commercialize this technology to the broader market”.
Recycling Filters Into Consumer Plastics
New Jersey-based recycling company TerraCycle has been working with cities and tobacco manufacturers to turn discarded cigarette butts into usable plastic since 2002. The company receives used butts from recycling drives and clean-ups on beaches and roadsides, as well as from thousands of branded collection bins in countries around the world including the US, Japan, Brazil and the UK.
After the butts are collected, TerraCycle separates the plastic in the butts from toxins using a unique multi-step process and blends the repurposed plastic with other materials to make plastic pellets, plastic lumber, and even outdoor garbage bins. Since its founding, the organization has collected hundreds of millions of butts around the world.
Baking Butts Into Bricks
Australia-based researcher Dr. Abbas Mohajerani of the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology’s School of Engineering has found cigarette butts can be baked into clay bricks, trapping the dangerous pollutants and using less energy than is required to produce a typical brick.