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The City of Vancouver has teamed up with Terracycle to keep butts off the streets, and reuse the raw materials in low-carbon plastics.
Cigarette butts are ripe for criticism: they are non-biodegradable, toxic and they litter streets – not to mention the severe health impacts of smoking in the first place. The City of Vancouver and international recycling company Terracycle have taken up the challenge of minimising the problem with an innovative pilot programme.
As part of Vancouver’s ambitious green goals, the Cigarette Waste Brigade has installed 110 recycling receptacles on several blocks across downtown areas of the city, with the aim of reducing the level of butt litter – with environmental benefits.
Not only is it keeping butts off the streets, but also out of landfill. Once collected from the receptacles, the toxic waste is recycled. Cellulose acetate extracted from filters is melted down for use in the production of industrial plastics – a process that reduces leakage of toxic chemicals into water streams, and offers a low-carbon alternative to fossil fuel-based polymers. Terracycle, which is funding the project, also sells recycled plastics to supermarkets. Any tobacco remnants are composted.
The programme wants to make cigarette waste easy to collect and recycle and have a wider environmental impact by closing the recycling loop. Its success will depend on encouraging smokers to use the receptacles and educating them about the effect discarded butts have on the environment.
“We’ve heard loud and clear from the public that they want more efforts to reduce litter…especially cigarette butts”, says Sadhu Johnston, Vancouver’s Deputy City Manager. “Social media [reaction] and media coverage has been very positive.”
Is this the most effective approach to tackling butt litter? Of course, the best way to reduce the number of butts dropped in public would be to prevent people from starting to smoke in the first place, and help others to quit. Yet it’s impossible to stop everyone from smoking overnight, prompts a spokesperson for the David Suzuki Foundation, a science-based environmental organisation which maintains that efforts are needed to address the litter problem in sustainable ways.
John Merzetti, organiser of the West End Clean-up project, a Vancouver-based group whose ‘butt buyback’ scheme inspired the pilot programme, says that it is a positive step forward. In addition, he urges that ‘no smoking’ and littering bylaws continue to be enforced.
If the programme is a success, Terracycle will look into replicating it globally. – Rich McEachran
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