Circular economy

New life for cigarette butts: what will they become?

Questo post è disponibile anche in: Italian

They are polluting, dangerous, and often abandoned on our roads: cigarette butts are probably the most emblematic symbol of urban pollution.

There are over 1.5 billion smokers in the world, and cigarette production touches 6 trillions per year. Alarming figures, especially because they are accompanied by about 1.2 million tons of waste per year.
Over the last few years, several initiatives have come up with innovative solutions to recycle cigarette butts.

One such experiment, for example, came from Brazil in 2012 as three students of the Escola Técnica Estadual Heliópolis launched the Sementuca project. The project’s goal was to adopt an innovative method to dispose of the 34 million cigarette butts thrown away by São Paulo citizens every day. With Sementuca, the paper which envelopes cigarettes would be first recycled to make letter paper and then planted to make flowers grow.

More recently, in 2016, the problem was approached by a study conducted by scholars of the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and published on the Journal of Waste Management. The research presents the possibility of recycling cigarette butts in the production of fired clay bricks: this would allow to block the dispersion in the environment of the toxic and polluting agents contained in cigarettes.

“This research shows that if just 2.5% of the world’s annual brick production incorporated 1% cigarette butts, we could completely offset annual worldwide cigarette production” says Abbas Mohajerani, first author of the research.

This technological innovation would have multiple positive outcomes: not only would it greatly simplify the disposal of toxic waste, it would also allow to reduce energy consumptions, thanks to the improved insulation properties of clay bricks containing recycled butts.

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