Communities united against cigarette litter begin recycling


This Oct. 17, 2003, file photo shows cigarette butts with other debris on the bluff above Fletcher Cove in Solana Beach, Calif.
Photo: Denis Poroy/AP

Cigarettes are America’s most littered item. It’s causing a crisis in large American cities; the ashtrays once found outside of public buildings and select spaces in schools and airports are no longer found. Even after their disposed of (or littered), the butts take years to decompose naturally. They’re all over the street in Brooklyn, and they’ve become a fixture of the gritty urban atmosphere.

According to TerraCycle, a Trenton-based private recycling company that operates across 21 different countries, cigarette litter has a detrimental impact on the environment and wildlife. Chemicals like arsenic and lead because of cigarette litter disperse into marine and terrestrial environments.

In recognition of America Recycles Day on Nov. 15, TerraCycle has proposed a Cigarette Waste Free Recycling Program. By signing up online, people can mail in their cigarette waste for TerraCycle to recycle, and purchase receptacles as containers for any community area or business. Individuals can participate in the program by signing up online and sealing their cigarette waste in a plastic bag and mailing the bag in a box with TerraCycle’s free shipping label.

A model presents a creation made of empty cigarette boxes during Trash Fashion Show in Macedonia’s capital Skopje, on Wednesday, June 3, 2015.
Photo: Boris Grdanoski/AP

The paper and tobacco are collected and separated by the butts and recycles into plastic that can be used to manufacture several different products, including shipping pallets, ash trays and park benches.

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The project involves different nonprofits and local municipalities. Keep-America-Beautiful (KAB) and other organizations are teaming up and encouraging people to contribute to TerraCycle’s project so they can conduct cigarette litter assessments. As a bonus, $1,000 is donated towards Keep America Beautiful’s Cigarette Litter Prevention Program for every pound of cigarette waste collected.

TerraCycle has collected hundreds of millions of cigarettes that would’ve otherwise been non-recyclable. The Keep America Beautiful Chapters that have participated in the program extensively include:

  • Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful – As part of implementing a statewide litter plan to address micro-litter, Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful partnered with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to install cigarette recycling receptacles at the entrances of 14 welcome centers across the state. This is in addition to working with 41 of Pennsylvania’s state parks, translating to an overall 65% combined reduction rate in cigarette litter.
  • Keep New Hanover Beautiful – Keep New Hanover Beautiful has launched a comprehensive initiative to recycle cigarette butts, working with businesses, local government, and others alike. Since 2017, they have recycled over 1 million cigarette filters using the recycling services provided by TerraCycle.
  • Keep Puako Beautiful – In 2021 Keep Puako Beautiful collected over 7,000 cigarette butts from the beautiful Puako beaches in Hawaii. With personal passion and dedication, the organization has worked with Keep America Beautiful and TerraCycle to divert this waste from both landfills and natural habitats alike.
American Spirits cigarettes of Reynolds American cigarette brand. Palo Alto, Calif., 2011.
Photo: Paul Sakuma/AP

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