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Vancouver gets serious about cigarette butt recycling

| November 18, 2013

There are no butts about it: Vancouver is getting serious about cigarette butt recycling. The city aims to be the greenest city in the world by the year 2020, and part of that bold initiative involves stomping out one of the most obnoxious littering problems: cigarette butts.

According to an article by Jeff Lee in the Vancouver Sun, Vancouver just “became the first municipality in North America to initiate a cigarette butt recycling program.” And Vancouver taxpayers don’t have to dig in their pockets for this one: the ENTIRE six-month program “will cost taxpayers the grand sum of $110.”

cigarette butt recycling

Vancouver hopes to be the “greenest city in the world.” From Maya-Anaïs Yataghène.

You read that correctly: $110 for a six-month program. How? The city is only paying $1 per recycling receptacle, and the rest of the program is underwritten by other organizations. The primary organization is New York-based TerraCycle, which we’ve previously written about as a leader in tackling tricky recycling challenges.

Here’s how the program works: 110 small receptacles have been mounted to existing poles throughout the city. The labels read, “Butt Bin” and “Recycle Your Butts Here.” A social services agency called Embers provided the manpower to install the receptacles, and another agency called United We Can, “which works with the poor and unemployed in the inner city, will employ people to empty the canisters on a regular basis and ship the collected butts to TerraCycle’s Canadian depot.”

cigarette butts bin

People often think nothing of leaving their cigarette butts on the street. From Indi Samarajiva.

Then the magic starts. Cigarette butt filters contain a substance called cellulose acetate. According to Lee’s article, cellulose acetate can be recycled into useful plastic products such as pallets and lumber.

The potential to create new products is just one of the major benefits of the innovative program. The Canadian Press quotes Vancouver’s Deputy Mayor Andrea Reimer who says that the program will help the city reach their ‘greenest city in the world’ goal: “As a city councilor the last five years, I can not tell you how many people complain about the problem of litter on our streets, and most especially cigarette butts.”

The complaints are warranted, and they’re not limited to Vancouver. “Estimates are that 3.5 trillion cigarette butts are littered every single year,” said TerraCycle’s Albe Zakes. Yes, that was trillion, with a “T.”

One more reason to clean up the butts? The materials in cigarette buts are hazardous and have the potential to leak toxic chemicals into groundwater.

In summary, the program will:

  • Clean up Vancouver’s streets and help them reach their ‘Greenest City by 2020’ goal
  • Provide employment to disadvantaged persons
  • Keep chemicals out of groundwater
  • Provide material for new products
  • Create awareness about the importance of recycling

It sure looks like a win-win-win-win-win situation. The people behind the program are hoping that it provides a model for other major cities.

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Category: 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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