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Recycling cigarette butts a reality thanks to one company



A company in the United States has found a way to recycle a product that for some time was thought to be unrecyclable, cigarette butts. TerraCycle, based in New Jersey, is able to recycle millions of cigarette butts and turn them into useful products such as railway sleepers and shipping pallets.

TerraCycle was launched in the early 2000’s with the aim of taking products that are not normally recycled and figuring out a way to do so. Today they have more than 7,000 cigarette recycling bins in 9 countries including Australia. TerraCycle also has a facility for people to send in their cigarette butts for recycling free of charge. You can even earn TerraCycle points whilst doing so which can be redeemed for gifts or donations.

Cigarette butts are an environmental hazard. According to US National Health (NIH) out of the 6 trillion cigarettes smoked every year, 4.5 trillion (75 per cent) end up as litter in the environment. As a result, many butts end up in waterways where they can be very damaging to the surrounding environment due to the toxins they contain.

The tightly compacted combination of organic and inorganic materials in a cigarette butt are what makes it difficult to recycle. In order to do so, TerraCycle breaks them down into their individual parts. From here, the organic material can be combined with other food scraps and made into compost for use on non-agricultural land. The filters, made of cellulose acetate, need to be sterilised, shredded and then blended with other recycled materials. They are then melted down into industrial plastic, also known as ‘plastic lumber’. This can be used to build railway sleepers and shipping pallets. Other products such as ashtrays, Frisbees and even playground equipment can be made from the recycled materials.

Unfortunately the recycling process is not cheap and actually costs more than the plastic products can be sold for. This could be why there are no larger recycling plants adopting the process. To get around this, TerraCycle accepts funding from other corporations, including cigarette companies, to sponsor their bins and recycling programs. This allows them to maintain a no-charge recycling program for people who wish to send in their cigarette butts.

TerraCycle is now exploring other household waste which has not been recycled in the past such as chocolate wrappers, pens and mobile phones with the overall aim of reducing the amount of waste ending up in landfill.

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