With the increase in use in e-cigs, the sight of fag ends on pavements may soon start to dwindle. However, good problem solving means that some people are already looking at them not so much as litter but as a resource. This is from 2010:
Here's a message from Chinese scientists: "Stop throwing out your cigarette butts!" Researchers have devised a financially viable process for recycling cigarette leftovers to extract chemicals present in the filters. And doing your part to recycle cigarette butts could help save one of our most precious resources -- oil companies.
That's right, oil companies. Cigarette butts contain a lot of chemicals, nine of which can be extracted and turned into compounds that are highly effective at preventing corrosion of a kind of steel widely used in the oil industry. Constantly replacing rusting pipes is a serious financial drain on oil producers worldwide, and a better anti-corrosive would help curb those costs.
Of course, the public isn't exactly drowning in warm, fuzzy sentiments for Oil Companies. Which makes the timing of such an announcement somewhat bizarre. But it's worthwhile to consider the upside to such a proposal. Cigarette butts can survive for up to 15 years in the sea (they're toxic to some fish), and 4.5 trillion of them make their way out into our ecosystems every year. So simply by collecting and disposing of cigarette butts in some kind of organized manner, there's a built-in benefit to all of us.
All that aside, oil companies -- as much as we all like to say horrible things about them -- are not going anywhere as long as we remain addicted to the product they peddle. But better anti-corrosives could help keep pumping equipment in top form, making calamities less frequent. In theory, it could even drive the price of oil down ever so slightly.
A reasonable plan for collecting and recycling cigarette butts won't be in place anytime soon, but if anyone is poised to lead the way it's the Chinese. With 1 billion people and a certain penchant for tobacco, the Chinese consume a third of the world's smokes.
... and it's starting to happen, although for different reasons. This, from 2012:
Private companies are launching programs that not only encourage people to pick up cigarette butts but also recycle them. Contrary to what many smokers may think, cigarette filters are not biodegradable: They are made with a plastic that can leach their toxic chemicals into the environment.
In July, TerraCycle will begin providing free UPS shipping labels — paid for by an unnamed American tobacco company — so people can mail in butts they've collected. TerraCycle will turn the butts into plastic pallets for industrial use.
Today, Eco-Tech Displays is starting a company, Cigarette Butt Litter Dream Recycling, to transform butts into products such as jewelry, vases and guitar picks. It collects the butts from hundreds of ashtrays that it has placed outside bars and restaurants in New York City, New Jersey and Chicago.
There are public efforts, too. New York Assemblyman Michael DenDekker reintroduced a bill this year to give collectors a penny per butt, paid for by a penny deposit per cigarette. Portland, Maine, instituted a $100 fine for butt littering in March. San Francisco began collecting a penny per smoke in 2009 — a "litter abatement fee" — to pay for cigarette cleanup costs.
"We're a long way from yogurt cups," says TerraCycle's Albe Zakes, noting advances in recycling. As long as an affordable way is found to collect and ship waste, he says: "Everything's recyclable."
When it comes to cigarettes butts, Zakes says, the paper and leftover tobacco are manually removed and composted. The rest is shredded, put into a machine that removes toxic chemicals, melted and remade as industrial pallets.
Blake Burich, a Columbus, Ohio, resident who has patented a recycling method and is partnering with companies to start facilities nationwide, says some people eagerly collect butts. He recalls a woman he arranged to meet in a shopping mall.
"She popped her trunk and had a garbage bag full. It must have been 50 pounds," he says.
Curtis Baffico, a San Diego surfer so outraged by butts on the beach that he started a collection effort, says it's a "very dirty, stinky job." Volunteers use compostable gloves or tweezers.
"It's not like picking up bottles. You almost have to use your fingers," he says, adding it's "backbreaking."
He says no amount of collecting and recycling, however, will solve the problem. In its most recent litter survey, the Keep America Beautiful found cigarettes were the single largest item littered on roadways, accounting for 38% of the total. Its main message: Don't litter.
... and last year, Vancouver became the first city to have a proper recycling system in place. You can read the story here: http://globalnews.ca/news/961723/first-cigarette-butt-recycling-program-in-the-world-launches-today-in-vancouver/
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