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Because You Asked

Can Cigarette Butts Be Recycled?

By Recyclebank |

Hold on to your butts! Cigarette filters are a scourge to our streets and waterways.

Dear Recyclebank,

What happens to all the cigarette butts thrown to the ground? Can cigarette butts be recycled?

-Katie, Tyler, TX


Dear Katie,

All those cigarette butts can meet one of a few fates, none of them particularly sustainable and most of them downright harmful.

You can walk around in nearly every outdoor public place and spot cigarette butts — in flowerbeds, along the curb, in gutters, in the middle of the very sidewalk you are walking on. Besides being an eyesore, the butts have to be cleaned up by property owners and municipalities (your tax dollars at work), or by volunteer programs like the International Coastal Cleanup. But cleaning captures just a portion of the hundreds of thousands of tons (845,000 tons annually worldwide, by one estimate) that end up as litter each year. The rest gets carried away by stormwater run-off and deposited on dry land and in waterways. They persist in the environment because they are made of cellulose acetate, a non-biodegradable plastic. Butts that end up in water can leach nicotine and other chemicals harmful to aquatic life, and may be ingested by animals.

A sustainable recycling solution is sorely needed because trillions of cigarettes are smoked each year worldwide. Not all of the butts end up as litter, but proper disposal still means they go to landfills. Recycling options are still extremely limited; one of the only programs available is TerraCycle’s cigarette waste mail-in recycling program. Unless manufacturers develop a more recyclable cigarette, the best smokers can do is to make sure their butts are properly disposed of in ashtrays, receptacles, and trashcans. Otherwise, legislators like those in Louisiana and Illinois might step in to make sure the financial and legal costs will help prevent the environmental costs of cigarette litter.

Tobacco Control
Keep America Beautiful
International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health


Have you ever volunteered to clean up cigarette butts or other litter around your community? Share your story in the comments below.

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  • Barbara W. 1 month ago
    I remember several years ago, sitting on my front porch on a HOT sunny afternoon. It was sooo...... hot the grass had dried up due to a drought/ heat. I SAW a person in their car, toss a lit cig ( straight from their mouth) to the grass along the curb of my yard. I had been reading the mail, so I grabbed an advertisement and RAN out to the curb to retrieve the lit cig. I moved it to the street and stomped in out while saying a few choice words!
    It easily could have caught the yard on fires and then the house! It certainly can happen in Okla and Texas with out heat!
  • Val B. 2 months ago
    With all the germs I'd be hesitant picking up the butts w/o gloves
    or some kind of protection. Eons ago peeps took the leftover tobacco
    from a cig soaked it used it I want to say in a flower garden to protect some
    plants against bugs. It's really old school though. Again if using butt that have
    been in someone's mouth and hands extreme caution is very warranted least IMO.
  • Diane H. 2 months ago
    Can the top of a spaghetti jar be recycled?
  • David I. 2 months ago
    The link to the butt recycling program is broken.
  • Gina L. 2 months ago
    I finally got a company/corporation to place a bucket of sand for butts on a nearby trail. Now I am just watching to see if they will do the clean up or if I need to tend to the trash. Either way it is a plus.
    • Barbara W. 1 month ago
      A LONG time ago, I had a few friends that smoked. I used an old coffee can, decorated it, filled it with sand then put it by the front porch. I TOLD the smokers that's what it is for.
      The one by the patio was placed downwind and away from others!
      Many years have passed and those people don't smoke anymore/or died.
      No one is ever allowed to smoke in my house EVER>
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