Preserving the Environment

These Cities are Trading in Cigarette Butts for Cash

December 10, 2014
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These Cities are Trading in Cigarette Butts for Cash
An estimated 195 million pounds of cigarette butts are thrown away improperly in the U.S. each year. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
A pound of smokes is worth $4.

Most cities may have enacted smoking laws to curb people from lighting up in public, but cigarette butts continue to blanket streets, parks and beaches. In fact, an estimated 195 million pounds of cigarette butts are thrown away improperly in the United States each year.

But as harmful to the environment as they can be (they’re made from a form of plastic that doesn’t degrade easily), butts are recyclable, which is why some cities across the country are tapping a national, mail-in recycling program to eliminate cigarette waste. Salem, Mass., and New Orleans are two such communities that have partnered with TerraCycle, a New Jersey-based company that pays by the pound for cigarette waste.

Over the summer, TerraCycle installed special cigarette waste receptacles throughout New Orleans — recycling the butts into industrial products like plastic pallets, while any remnants of tobacco are repurposed through composting methods. For each pound TerraCycle receives from the city, the company donates $4 to the Downtown Development District (DDD), according to New Orleans ABC affiliate WGNO. For a city that has collected 6,781 butts in one day, according to DDD President and CEO Kurt Weigle, that’s worth the investment.

More recently, Salem launched a similar program, exchanging each pound of cigarette waste for $2, which is split between Salem Main Streets and Keep America Beautiful, according to a press release.

“Cigarette waste is one of the most common forms of litter on our streets and sidewalks,” says Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll. “Having these receptacles available should provide us one more tool in our efforts to keep our city clean, while maintaining our commitment to being green and eliminating our overall trash output.”

TerraCycle is sponsored by Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company, which covers program costs including installation, collection and maintenance.

As more cities look to clean up the streets, they should investigate solutions like TerraCycle, which provides a low-cost, innovative way to eliminate an unnecessary yet persistent piece of litter.

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