Hey, Buttface!

Recycled Butts

With all due respect to the over one billion smokers in the world today, smoking is terrible for you, horrible (if not deadly) for people in your proximity, and equally harmful to the environment. Several trillion-cigarette butts are discarded into the environment each year worldwide; giving cigarette butts the dubious honor of being the most commonly discarded piece of waste globally. Approximately 99% of those cigarettes contain a cellulose acetate filter comprised of thousands of plastic-like cellulose acetate fibers (the “butt”). Cellulose acetate is photodegradable but not biodegradable. It takes more than a decade for ultraviolet light to cause those cigarette filter fibers to decay. Each cigarette filter is designed as a sort of buffer that supposedly traps and holds toxins and is claimed to block large quantities of nicotine from entering the smokers’ lungs. What happens is that those discarded butts contain a toxic stew when they are thrown from car windows or washed down waterways. Once discarded, the real damage begins as they leach toxic chemicals and carcinogens that pollute the environment.

So what is one to do? Well, for starters, Tecniq takes a macro look at the problem. Cellulose acetate is a plastic-like material used to make everything from sunglasses to hair combs. What if those nasty cigarette butts could be collected, washed, irradiated (purified), and cooked in industrial machines to create new and clean material feedstocks? With an estimated 1.69 billion pounds of butts floating around in the world that sounds like a pretty significant quantity of raw material – albeit dirty and toxic at the beginning. One thing is for sure; those who smoke are going to likely continue to do so. Although cigarette smoking is on the decline in the US, it is increasing in other parts of the world.  That means that this problem isn’t going away anytime soon. Something has to be done to clean up the environment and offset virgin material use where applicable.

This will be an ongoing project for Tecniq and we are just now entering our first pilot phase of injection molding consumer goods for product evaluations. There will be an enormous amount of health and safety validations that need to be put in place to ensure consumers can come in contact with the purified materials in their new forms, as well as proof that this isn’t a net-loss for the environment with the conversion process. More on this soon…

- Rob Falken

Sources: “The Environmental Burden of Cigarette Butts,” Tobacco Control, April 2011, (http://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/20/Supp_1.toc); “The Impact of Tobacco on the Environment,” Legacy Factsheet, April 2010 (www.LegacyforHealth.org); ”Tobacco and the environment,” ASH.fact sheet, 2009 (www.ash.org.uk); CA Dept of Public Health’s Butt Waste “Toolkit Project,” (www.toxicbutts.com); “Tobacco Watch,” Framework Convention Alliance, 2010 (www.fctc.org)

Rob Falken