TerraCycle is turning cigarette butts, a pervasive pollutant in our environment, into plastic pallets and other items – and rewarding those who send butts in.
These sorts of initiatives always strike rather close to home for me as I’m a heavy smoker and have been for nearly 30 years.
I’m not going to offer any excuses or rationalizations for this behavior here as they are all poor; but yes, I’m very aware of tobacco’s environmental impact as well as that on health and the hypocritical nature of my habit given the topic of this site.
(UPDATE: I quit smoking on July 24, 2012 using electronic cigarettes)
Something I didn’t know until relatively recently was on top of all the other issues, cigarette filters are made as a result of complex processes involving wood pulp, acetic acid and acetic anhydride. Filters really appear to be more of a bio-plastic of sorts than a really natural product.
There is also some debate about whether cigarette filters are fully biodegradable – or just degradable (and there is a difference).
Regardless, as a butt breaks down (and it takes many years to) it also releases a cocktail of chemicals from the tar and other gunk it has trapped.
Improper disposal of cigarette butts is a huge problem. It’s estimated several trillion cigarette butts are thoughtlessly discarded globally each year. These butts will sometimes wind up in waterways and may be eaten by aquatic creatures.
The TerraCycle Cigarette Waste Brigade program accepts more than just the filters – basically anything attached to it as well such as the paper and residual tobacco. The filter is separated from the butt and the remainder used in composting.
For each pound of butts, $1.00 is donated to the non-profit of the participant’s choice.
It doesn’t sound like a lot of money, but TerraCycle pays for the shipping and when you consider some establishments such as pubs and clubs draw a substantial number of smokers, I imagine it would add up to a considerable amount of waste each year that can be repurposed and that would otherwise go to landfill – or worse.
I’ve seen some commentary that such a scheme encourages and promotes smoking. I don’t see how as butts are a filthy, smelly thing – I’ve never seen a tobacco company use discarded butts in promotion.
Anyhow, thumbs up to TerraCycle from me for this initiative.
This is only one of TerraCycle’s “brigades” – they have a variety of programs targeting other specific forms of waste; which are great not only for the environment, but also beneficial as fundraisers for community groups.
Waste Decomposition Rates
Environmental Impact Of Electronic Cigarettes