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New Orleans is kicking (cigarette) butts

| July 29, 2014

Smoking rates have plummeted significantly in the United States over the past several decades—but you might not know it from looking at the barrage of cigarette butts carpeting many urban sidewalks. New Orleans is the latest city taking on the challenge of cleaning up the butts.

That’s the good news. The great news? They’re doing more than just keeping cigarette butts off the street. They’re actually going to do something useful with them.

cigarette butts

Cigarette butts currently litter New Orleans sidewalks. From Steve Snodgrass.

In 1965, nearly half—45 percent—of adults in the United States identified as smokers. Today, less than one in five adults smoke. And yet, those butts continue to accumulate.

Smoking is still relatively common in New Orleans, where smoking is still allowed in bars that do not serve food. New Orleans has taken the lead in cleaning up cigarette butts. The city has hopped on board a large-scale recycling effort that will, ideally, have a dramatic impact on the number of cigarette butts that linger on the ground (and, in many cases, end up making their way into the drainage systems and, ultimately, the ocean).

New Orleans has partnered with Trenton, New Jersey-based TerraCycle Inc. and is implementing a twofold response to the cigarette butt issue: First, they’ll work to motivate smokers to stop dropping the butts on the street (or tossing them into a trash can, which is a potential fire hazard). The city is installing 50 specially designed cigarette butt recycling receptacles throughout the downtown area. The receptacles are sleek, metal boxes that can be strapped to light poles and other fixtures. Their presence will create awareness of cigarette butt recycling and, hopefully, entice smokers to take a few extra steps to properly dispose of their used butts.

The second phase is where things get really exciting. Those receptacles will be emptied on a regular basis, and New Orleans can sell the cigarette butt waste at a rate of $4 per pound. We might not think of cigarette butts as compostable, but components of them are. The program will separate compostable materials (such as tobacco and paper) from the non-compostable materials. The cigarette filters, which are made of a type of plastic called cellulose acetate, are shredded—and then gamma radiation can be used to remove bio-toxins from the shredded filters. (If the thought of gamma radiation causes you to raise your eyebrows, don’t worry—it’s a “very safe” process that is also used on fish and other meats to remove bio-contaminants.)

The detoxified, shredded filters can be melted into plastic pellets and used in the same way that plastic bottles are often used. This includes industrial applications such as plastic lumber.

Cleaner streets, revenue for New Orleans, less toxic landfill waste, less trash in the water, more compost, and more green industrial materials? This sounds like a win all around.

New Orleans is the first major U.S. city to participate in TerraCycle’s program, which originally launched in Canada. We’re sure that other U.S. metropolitan areas will be watching the New Orleans program with great interest—and we will be, too.

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Category: Blog Landing Page, Pollution, Recycling programs

About the Author ()

Ellen Hunter Gans has been writing for RecycleReminders since the blog’s inception. She is passionate about words, new media and, of course, recycling.

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