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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.

Share with Your Friends & Family
  • Juanita A. 6 years ago
    hmmmm- someone who wants to save the planet by recycling but not their body by smoking. Sort of ironic.
  • Joyce O. 6 years ago
    My husband and I go on frequent walks around our neighborhood. The only thing we don't like about the neighborhood is the abundance of trash thrown on the ground. And most of our neighbors don't even pick up their own property when people litter. Cigarettes butts are one of the most frequently found things that we pick up on our walks.
  • Tae s. 6 years ago
    I'm a block captain and I ask my neighbors that smoke to use a can instead on the ground. In my weekly clean-ups Cigarettes butts are plentiful and sometimes painful to see.
  • M D. 6 years ago
    pick it up as I go along my daily life - don't wait for volunteer time
  • Audrey B. 6 years ago
    I think smokers should have added tax on each pack, to pay for the clean ups when they throw their butts out the window in their cars, or throw on peoples properties. We don't smoke, but it adds up with cars or people walking throwing their butts on our property. Disgusting. Maybe even littering fines.

    I do not want to have to pick them up.
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