Cigarette butts are commonly known as hard-to-recycle items, but they are now being recycled into park benches thanks to an innovative recycling process developed by TerraCycle.
Recycling company TerraCycle has developed a processing method that creates higher-end plastic products from waste.
Cigarette butts are collected from cities and municipalities across the US in rectangular cigarette butt waste boxes known as TerraCycle Butt Bins.
Each box can hold hundreds of cigarette butts before they’re shipped to TerraCycle’s recycling facility, where they are processed and recycled into such things as ashtrays, fence posts, industrial supplies, and park benches.
Cigarette butts are one of the most common kinds of litter. The tobacco and paper in them will break down, so those can be composted. But the filters contain a plastic, and that can take years to decompose.
After years of research, recycling management company TerraCycle found a way to carefully process cigarette butts so that the plastic contained in them, cellulose acetate, could be used to make things such as park benches and pallets.
During the recycling process, the butts are firstly separated. Organic compounds such as tobacco and paper are composted and used to create specific types of fertiliser, while inorganic components — namely, the filters — are cleaned and shredded.
After that, the material is “densified” into a powder-like substance. It’s then transformed again into tiny granules of plastic that TerraCycle sells to other companies that use them to build new items, everything from picnic tables to decking materials.
TerraCycle started accepting cigarette and tobacco waste in 2012. The company, which has become a global leader in recycling hard-to-recycle waste, receives three or four new materials from around the world daily which they attempt to figure out how to break down into something else.
TerraCycle reuses, upcycles, and recycles waste instead of incinerating or landfilling it. This moves waste from a linear system to a circular one, allowing it to keep cycling in the economy.
Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief @rosamedea