Cigarette Butt Disposal

Used cigarette butts have a bad reputation. Acting as litter in most of our national parks, these nuisances have long been regarded as pure waste, destined for the landfill, and an eyesore. There are literally trillions of cigarette butts in our physical environment. Global tobacco consumption has more than doubled in the past 30 years, and global cigarette production reached a record high in 19971. The influx of cigarettes and their associated waste into parks and communities is damaging to our natural environment. Not only do cigarettes contribute to visual pollution and second-hand smoke issues, but the toxins in cigarettes have greater implications for our ecosystems. This information, coupled with research on how detrimental cigarette smoking is for health, make them highly undesirable in any capacity. However, the forecast on cigarettes may not be as dismal as we think. Recently, mechanisms to recycle cigarette butts have surfaced, making the case for cigarette butt usage in today’s world.

Recycling cigarette butts is becoming a reality. The up cycling of this litter could be beneficial for many industries, from oil to production and shipping. Researchers in China have developed a viable process for recycling cigarette leftovers that involves extracting the chemicals present in filters2. Not only is this process financially sound, but it has significant implications for something we are highly dependent on—oil. Nine of the chemicals that can be feasibly extracted from cigarette butts can be used to prevent corrosion in rusting oil production pipes. By collecting and disposing of cigarette butts in an organized manner, there is potential benefit for all of us, as the financial burden of oil pipe replacement affects oil prices for consumers. Since approximately 4.5 trillion cigarette butt remnants make their way into the environment each year, there is much room for growth in this research field.3

Recently, the City of Vancouver and TerraCycle Canada launched a pilot program to collect cigarette butts for recycling.4 110 cigarette recycling receptacles have been installed in downtown Vancouver as part of the Cigarette Waste Brigade program. These receptacles keep cigarettes off the streets, and out of landfills. While this program is not using the chemicals in butts for anti-corrosive purposes, they are utilizing the cellulose acetate in the filters for the industrial production of shipping pallets. The tobacco extracted from these butts will be composted. Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company is assisting in the effort, and is accepting not only extinguished cigarettes, but also filters, loose tobacco pouches, outer plastic packaging, inner foil packaging, rolling paper, and ash, making it easier for consumers to deliver their used cigarette butts.5

Cigarette butts are the most common variety of litter on earth. Combined, they weigh millions of pounds.6 While we may not be able to phase out smoking altogether, we can work to ensure that cigarette butts don’t litter our environment and disrupt our ecosystems.


1 Register, Kathleen. (2000). "Cigarette Butts as Litter – Toxic as Well as Ugly?" Underwater Naturalist, 25(2). Retrieved on 2/26/2014 at www.cigarettelitter.org.

2 Dillow, Clay. (2010). "New Use for Cigarette Butts Makes Them Suddenly Worth the Cost of Recycling." Popular Science. Retrieved on 2/26/2014 at www.popsci.com.

3 McGrath, Matt. (2010). "Cigarette butts 'block corrosion.'" BBC. Retrieved on 2/26/2014 at www.bbc.co.uk.

4 Coxworth, Ben. (2013). "City of Vancouver launches cigarette butt recycling program." GIzmag. Retrieved on 2/26/2014 at www.gizmag.com.

5 Terracycle. "Recycle your waste with Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company." Terracycle. Retrieved on 2/26/2014 at www.terracycle.com.com.

6 Register, Kathleen. (2000).