The butt stops here

·3 min read

A local environmental group has taken on the collection and recycling of one of the most common forms of litter, the cigarette butt.

According to Mary Ellen Dowd from TerraCycle, butts account for 30 to 40 per cent of all items collected in coastal and urban cleanups. The filters can take years to decompose, all the while leaching toxic chemicals, like arsenic and lead, into the land and water. The butts also harm wildlife, which ingest the waste when it is mistaken for food.

The Municipality Kincardine environmental committee and the Green Team of St. Anthony’s School have partnered with TerraCycle, the world’s leader in the collection and repurposing of complex waste streams, to collect and redirect the waste into a viable recycling program.

The Green Team was formed nearly a decade ago, with the goal of preserving Kincardine’s natural habitats. Recently, the team has joined forces with the Municipality of Kincardine environmental committee to tackle the problem of discarded butts in parks and along waterways. The committee purchased and installed cigarette butt receptacles along the shoreline at Dunsmoor and Reunion Parks and in Victoria Park. As the project progresses, the team hopes to add additional receptacles in the downtown area.

Amanda Saxton sits on the municipal environmental committee and coordinates the Green Team at St. Anthony’s School.

"Our recycling initiative started with cookie and cracker wrappers, juice pouches and lunchable trays over a decade ago,” said Saxton. “When we began recycling, the waste streams being accepted were largely waste produced from school lunches so it made sense to run this program in our school. Since then many more streams have been added (many of them more household items) so our program evolved and we began a collection program in our wider community. Our Green Team organizes community clean-ups every spring and fall and we were finding an abundance of cigarette butts, so when we found out we could recycle them through TerraCycle, we jumped on the opportunity.”

Saxton has taken on the task of emptying the receptacles into bags and storing the butts until there is a batch large enough to mail to Terracycle. Dowd estimates that since the project began, the Green Team has collected approximately 23,500 butts.

Once the butts are received by Terracycle, the paper, filter and tobacco is separated. The filters are processed into plastic pellets, where it can be reused in the manufacturing of park benches, bike racks, shipping pallets or recycling bins. The paper and tobacco is composted.

Dowd says TerraCycle's profitability as a company is directly linked to the company’s ability to create new ways to eliminate waste. The company’s bottom line is people-planet-profit, a business approach that is necessary to provide value to its customers.

"Many of TerraCycle’s recycling programs are grassroots efforts that instill environmental values in the next generation,” said Shaye DiPasquale, publicist for TerraCycle, Inc. “Several of TerraCycle’s recycling programs engage students with recycling collection competitions in which they compete for a recycling themed prize, like playgrounds or school supplies made from recycled plastics. Additionally, TerraCycle’s strategic partnerships with urban businesses and governments allow municipalities to work toward a more sustainable future. In order to address the world’s most prominent litter, TerraCycle’s Cigarette Waste Recycling Program has been embraced by cities and businesses alike throughout the United States and Canada. By installing TerraCycle’s cigarette waste recycling receptacles in highly-trafficked locations, these organizations help remove an invasive and potentially toxic form of plastic pollution while beautifying the surrounding communities."

Dowd estimates that 4.5 trillion cigarette butts are discarded as litter every year and depending on conditions, decomposition can take 18 months to 10 years. TerraCycle has collected hundreds of millions of cigarette butts globally. Through its various recycling programs, more than 202 million people, across 20 countries, are engaged in the collection and recycling of billions of pieces of waste that were otherwise non-recyclable. All this was done while raising over 44 million dollars for charities around the world.

Tammy Schneider, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Kincardine Independent

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