Butts to Bricks

close-up of cigarette butts

Cigarette butts end up in the environment in the form of non-biodegradable toxic litter and create about 1.2 trillion tons of cigarette waste each year. As the world population grows, these numbers are expected to increase by as much as 50 percent by 2025. Cigarette butts are often carried as runoff from streets to drains and rivers, and ultimately to beaches and oceans. They not only visually impact the environment; they also leach toxins such as arsenic, cadmium, and other heavy metals into the soil and water.

In 2014, the Greenline News Update ran an article about the recycling of cigarette butts and how it can be useful in several industries. Since then, recycling uses for cigarette butts are multiplying. Recently, Dr. Abbas Mohajerani and his team from RMIT University in Australia found a way to incorporate cigarette butt waste into brick making. The benefits of incorporating cigarette butts into clay bricks include:

  • Keeping the same strong properties of traditional bricks.
  • Lowering the cost associated with making bricks.
  • Cutting the energy required to fire clay bricks by 58 percent.
  • Making the bricks lighter than traditional bricks.
  • Removing cigarette waste from the environment.
  • Offering better insulation than traditional bricks, reducing household heating and cooling costs.
  • Lowering contamination by trapping and immobilizing heavy metals and other pollutants in the bricks.

Dr. Mohajerani estimates that if just 2.5 percent of bricks made worldwide every year incorporated just one percent cigarette butt waste, it would offset global cigarette production. Aside from this new brick-making technology, researchers in China currently extract chemicals from cigarette butt filters and use them to prevent corrosion in rusting oil production pipes. The City of Vancouver and TerraCycle Canada uses the cellulose acetate in the filters to produce industrial shipping pallets.

To keep our planet safe and our environment as clean as possible, our innovation and creativity in dealing with cigarette butt litter and pollution must exceed the expected increase in smoking on a global level.